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Reuben Garrett Lucius Goldberg

Also Known As: "Rube"
Birthdate: (87)
Birthplace: San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, USA
Death: December 7, 1970 (87)
New York, New York, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Max Goldberg and Johanna "Hannah" Goldberg (Rohen)
Husband of Irma S Goldberg
Father of George W. George and Thomas George
Brother of Garrett Goldberg; Walter Goldberg and Lillian Goldberg

Occupation: cartoonist
Managed by: Erin Spiceland
Last Updated:

About Rube Goldberg

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Reuben Garrett Lucius "Rube" Goldberg (July 4, 1883 – December 7, 1970) was an American cartoonist, sculptor, author, engineer and inventor.

Similar to Heath Robinson devices in the UK, he is best known for a series of popular cartoons depicting complex gadgets that perform simple tasks in indirect, convoluted ways. Goldberg received many honors in his lifetime, including a Pulitzer Prize for his political cartooning in 1948 and the Banshees' Silver Lady Award 1959.

Personal Life

Goldberg was a founding member and the first president of the National Cartoonists Society, and he is the namesake of the Reuben Award, which the organization awards to the Cartoonist of the Year. He is the inspiration for various international competitions, known as Rube Goldberg Machine Contests, which challenge participants to make a complex machine to perform a simple task.

Reuben Garrett Lucius Goldberg was born July 4, 1883, in San Francisco, California, to Jewish parents Max and Hannah Goldberg. He was the second of four children (older brother Garrett, younger brother Walter, and younger sister Lillian). Rube married Irma Seeman in 1916. They lived at 98 Central Park West in New York City and had two sons named Thomas and George. He started drawing when he was four years old.

Goldberg did not share a surname with his children because of the amount of hatred towards him during World War II stemming from the political nature of his cartoons[citation needed]. He ordered his sons to change their names from Goldberg for safety reasons. Both of his sons chose the last name of George, wanting to keep a sense of family cohesiveness. Thomas and George's children now run a company called RGI (Rube Goldberg Incorporated) to maintain the Goldberg name. John George (Thomas's son) is assisted by his cousin Jennifer George (George's daughter) and John's son Joshua George to keep the family name alive. Goldberg died in 1970 at the age of 87, while his widow, Irma, died 20 years later on April 26, 1990 at the age of 95.


Goldberg's father was a San Francisco police and fire commissioner, who encouraged the young Reuben to pursue a career in engineering. Rube graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1904 with a College of Mining degree and was hired by the city of San Francisco as an engineer for the Water and Sewers Department. After six months he resigned his position with the city to join the San Francisco Chronicle where he became a sports cartoonist. The following year, he took a job with the San Francisco Bulletin, where he remained until he moved to New York City in 1907.

Goldberg drew cartoons for five newspapers, including the New York Evening Journal and the New York Evening Mail. His work entered syndication in 1915, beginning his nationwide popularity. He was syndicated by the McNaught Syndicate from 1922 until 1934.

A prolific artist, Goldberg produced several cartoon series simultaneously, including Mike and Ike (They Look Alike), Boob McNutt, Foolish Questions, Lala Palooza and The Weekly Meeting of the Tuesday Women's Club. The cartoons that brought him lasting fame involved a character named Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts. In that series, Goldberg drew labeled schematics of the comical "inventions" that would later bear his name.

Cultural legacy

The postcard book, Rube Goldberg's Inventions!, was compiled by Maynard Frank Wolfe from the Rube Goldberg Archives. The cover illustration shows Professor Butts and the Self-Operating Napkin. The "Self-Operating Napkin" is activated when the soup spoon (A) is raised to mouth, pulling string (B) and thereby jerking ladle (C), which throws cracker (D) past parrot (E). Parrot jumps after cracker and perch (F) tilts, upsetting seeds (G) into pail (H). Extra weight in pail pulls cord (I), which opens and lights automatic lighter (J), setting off skyrocket (K), which causes sickle (L) to cut string (M) and allow the pendulum with the attached napkin to swing back and forth, thereby wiping chin.

In 1931 the Merriam-Webster dictionary adopted the word "Rube Goldberg" as an adjective defined as accomplishing something simple through complex means.

Predating Goldberg, the corresponding term in the UK was, and still is, "Heath Robinson", after the English illustrator with an equal devotion to odd machinery, also portraying sequential or chain reaction elements.

Goldberg's work was commemorated posthumously in 1995 with the inclusion of Rube Goldberg's Inventions, depicting Professor Butts' "Self-Operating Napkin" in the Comic Strip Classics series of U.S. postage stamps.

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Rube Goldberg's Timeline

July 4, 1883
San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, USA
February 8, 1920
Age 36
New York, New York, New York, United States
December 7, 1970
Age 87
New York, New York, United States