Skip to content

Who Invented the Rube Goldberg Invention?

May 25, 2015

Who Invented The Rube Goldberg Invention?

The Rube Goldberg invention is a complex device that achieves a simple objective. Entering the American lexicon in 1931, it defines the adjective “Rube Goldberg,” a staple of most American English dictionaries. “Rube Goldberg,” of course, is only the adjective, but it is followed by “invention,” “contraption,” “device,” or a plethora of other synonyms of those words that “Rube Goldberg” modifies. But who is Rube Goldberg and where does the convention of the Rube Goldberg invention come from?

Ruben Lucius Goldberg was born in San Francisco, California on July 4, 1883. He received a degree in engineering from UC Berkeley in 1904, but in 1907 he moved to New York City and became a cartoonist for the New York Evening Mail. He was very popular, and by the time America entered World War I, Goldberg was nationally syndicated and, true to the journalistic standards of the time, William Randolph Hearst had already begun a bidding war to lure Goldberg from the Evening Mail to the New York Journal. The Evening Mail was able to keep Goldberg until 1934, at which time he continued syndicating cartoons until his death in 1970.

According to Charles Keller in his book, The Best of Rube Goldberg, Goldberg began drawing the iconic inventions in 1915 and they became a weekly institution in American journalism. In fact, there are innumerable imitations of the motif in various aspects of popular culture including television (especially animated features), movies, and games. His name is also given to the cartoonist of the year award (Ruben Award), by the National Cartoonists Society. There are even Rube Goldberg Machine Contests for high school and college students around the United States. The idea of creating fanciful machines to complete simple tasks taps into human imagination and foolish inefficiency at the same time.

Rube Goldberg Putter

Above: Rube Goldberg improves the game of golf.

William Heath Robinson (1872-1944) also drew complex machines that completed tasks in Britain at about the same time as Goldberg. Robinson began his art career by illustrating books. He did several of them from 1897 to 1916. In the 19-teens, Robinson began drawing cartoons satirizing World War I for British media specializing in drawing impossible secret weapons that the enemy might use. This morphed into drawing the complex machines, and by 1917, the Oxford English Dictionary listed “Heath Robinson contraption” as a noun.

Robinson began drawing the absurd devices in children’s book illustrations and continued in several media until he died in 1944. During his lifetime he, as did Goldberg, published several books of cartoons including the machines. Both of their legacies have continued. For Robinson, it is an improvised device that was engineered by the British Air Force for its chaff dispensing mechanism called a Heath Robinson Chaff Modification.

So, who invented the Rube Goldberg Invention? As Robinson, being 11 years older than Goldberg got started drawing his machines first, there is a good chance that he was the first of the two to do it, but because those contraptions got their start in children’s books, it is unlikely that Goldberg saw them and was inspired. Goldberg’s methodology for drawing his inventions includes a step-by-step instruction of how the thing works. Those steps often utilize an item in the news at the time, a difference between him and Robinson.

Eventually, of course, both cartoonists became aware of the other’s work, but there was a big world full of many new products that were ripe for satire during the industrial age. Between the two of them they had enough material to keep themselves and scores of other cartoonists busy on a daily basis. Not only that, there was a big ocean between them, and American media did not print the Robinson cartoons any more than the British media ran the Goldberg variations on the Robinson theme.

Heath Robinson Atom Splitting

Above: Heath Robinson simplifies atomic fission.

The King is Gone

May 21, 2015

aacdd_b-b-kingIn my inaugural post for this website I discussed the subtle humor of the blues, and how that humor helps to give the blues its healing power. Last week we lost an American icon, a musician who is perhaps the best-known blues musician of them all.

B.B. King was neither the most versatile nor the most emotionally impactful blues musician. The ever-amiable master displayed little of the hellhounds that cast tortured shadows over the early delta players, the sheer frightening force of Howlin’ Wolf or the commandeering magnetism of Muddy Waters. But the “Blues Boy” developed his own influential style of fluid, single note guitar leads – moving seamlessly through his very being and out through his fingertips – which became the defining sound that many think of when they think of the blues. He spoke through his fingers. Tone flowed through his veins. His immense popularity and consistency made him the unquestionable ambassador of the blues to the world, and for that he rightly earned the title of King.

B.B. King defined his long and impressive career with class, sophistication and an effortless grace. But he wasn’t above a little good-natured humor, and had no reservations about making music with any artist from any genre, human or otherwise.

Here is a clip of the “King of the Blues” sitting in with the gang from Sesame Street, singing a song about the importance of the letter B. It’s a fun, humorous clip, but it underscores a deeper truth. Without the letter B, so the song goes, there would be no birds, no Berts and, most importantly, no blues. And without the blues, there would be no spirituals, no jazz, no honky tonk country, no R&B, no Rock ‘n’ Roll, no soul music, no funk, no hip-hop, not even pop. Without the blues there would be no anecdote for life’s unbearable heft. There could be no healing. Without the blues there is no American music. There is no America.

Play on, Blues Boy.

 

Call for Papers: “Is American Satire Still in a Postmodern Condition?” 

May 14, 2015
by

Special issue on contemporary satire for Studies in American Humor (Fall 2016), James E. Caron(University of Hawaii—Manoa), Guest Editor; Judith Yaross Lee (Ohio University, Editor).
In response to the torrent of satiric materials that has been and continues to be produced in recent years, Studies in American Humor invites proposals for 20-page essays using the rubric of “the postmodern condition” as an analytical gambit for demarcating a poetics of American comic art forms that use ridicule to enable critique and promote the possibility of social change. Proposals might focus on aspects of the following issues.

coverart

What problems are associated with defining satire as a comic mode, and how do recent examples fit into such debates? How useful is the term postmodern to characterize satire—i.e. does it refer to a period or an operation? How useful for understanding recent and contemporary satire are terms designed to indicate we have moved into something other than postmodernism: e.g. trans- or post-humanism, cosmodernism, digimodernism, post-theory? In accounts of satire as a mode of comic presentation of social issues, what differences arise from varied technologies andplatforms, not just print but also TV sitcoms (live-action or animated), movies, comic strips, stand-up formats, or the sit-down presentation of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert? Do significant differences emerge from satires on YouTube (or the video-sharing service, Vines) and various Internet sites (e.g., Funny or Die) and social media? If ridicule, broadly speaking, is the engine of satiric critique, what ethical concerns are entailed in its use?

Humor_web cover

Various disciplinary perspectives and methods are welcome. StAH values new transnational and interdisciplinary approaches as well as traditional critical and historical humanities scholarship. Submit proposals of 500-750 words to StAH’s editorial portal <http://www.editorialmanager.com/sah/> by June 15, 2015, for full consideration. Authors will be notified of the editors’ decisions in early July.  Completed essays will be due by January 15, 2016.   For complete information on Studies in American Humor and full submission guidelines see <http://studiesinamericanhumor.org/ >.  At the time of publication all authors are expected to be members of the American Humor Studies Association, which began publishing StAH (now produced in association with the Penn State University Press) in 1974. Queries may be addressed to the editors at <studiesinamericanhumor@ohio.edu>.

On the 70th Anniversary of Germany’s Surrender

May 7, 2015

Sam_sackett_bookToday, May 7, 2015 is the 70th Anniversary of Germany’s Surrender. In the context of Humor in America, I feel it’s appropriate to mark the occasion with a review of  Sam Sackett‘s book, “Adolph Hitler in Oz.

Don’t let the title scare you. It’s marvelous, worthwhile read. The premise is basic: With Germany on the brink of its demise, Adolph Hitler fakes his own death and find himself–without fanfare- in the metropolis of Oogaboo on the outskirts of Oz.

In juxtaposition reminiscent of an off-kilter dream, Laurel and Hardy are the first to greet him. Struck by the innocence of the Ozians, and true to his nature, Hitler sets about to convince the “meat people” that they have long been oppressed by a conspiracy of “non-meat people” (including the Scarecrow). But coping with talking animals, raising an army of pacifists and conquering a utopian kingdom that fares well without money is a path fraught with obstacles every step of the way. The unpredictable twists make this story hard to put down.

Though the morality in this tale is painted in simple black and white, Hitler’s encounters otherworldly landscapes, fanciful creatures and lily-hearted eccentrics are rich, nuanced, and witty. The vibe of the book is hard to describe. Think “Dr. Strangelove” meets a secular C.S. Lewis meets Animal Farm, chockablock with  Abbott and Costello style interchanges and alive with the imagination and whimsy of an original Oz book.  This uncanny exploration of ideologies and human nature makes many interesting points but never gets preachy or mired. Coming in at just under 300 lively pages, it’s a fun, accessible read unlike any other.

Reissued by New York-based Royal Publisher of Oz this children’s story for adults was first released in 2011. The new edition, available in paperback, has been edited to correct minor discrepancies pointed out by L. Frank Baum devotees who know Oz from O-Z.   Its layout and illustrations by Patricio Carbajal are reminiscent of the books in Baum’s complete Oz series I discovered in our small neighborhood library years ago. This edition also contains a bonus author’s essay entitled “The Utopia of Oz.”

 

 

 

In the Archives: “Yankeeana” from the London and Westminster Review (1838)

May 5, 2015
by

Originally posted on Humor in America:

Tracy Wuster

Much of the writing on the subject of “American humor” in the nineteenth century–when the idea of a distinctly American humor took shape–came from British critics writing in British journals on the subject of “American Humour.”

Whereas American literature, philosophy, and theology had largely been imitative of European models, British critics consistently saw American “humour” as a new development in American national literature.  American humor was increasingly framed as a worthwhile expression of American national life, in addition to being a product that the British reading public consumed with increasing eagerness.  American humor expressed important aspects of American life:  the scale and grandness of the land through exaggeration, the democratic variety of people through its diversity, and the immaturity of the country and its people through its exuberance and occasional profanity.  To use a popular critical metaphor, the British saw humor as a national growth of a young…

View original 4,862 more words

Nerd Prom and Presidential Humor

April 27, 2015

Last Saturday the Washington glitterati gathered at the Washington Hilton for what has become a major political event; the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. The draw has over the years become the president doing a stand-up bit followed by a professional comedian roasting more or less everybody in the room. This year’s invited host was Cecily Strong, a Saturday Night Live cast member known for playing The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With. Strong, only the second female to host in the last 20 years, did not go soft on those attending, pun intended. In twenty minutes she made sure to joke both left and right. My personal favorite was when she went after Obama: commenting on criticism that Senator Elizabeth Warren is “too idealistic and her proposed policies are too liberal,” she told people to look at President Obama “people thought the same about US-POLITICS-OBAMAhim and he didn’t end up doing any of that stuff.” Obama’s jokes also hit home, especially his jab at Hillary Clinton: “I have one friend, just a few weeks ago she was making millions of dollars a year and she’s now living out of a van in Iowa”. Indeed, the White House Correspondent’s Dinner has become something of a comedic highlight of the year for those interested in politics, giving it the nickname “Nerd Prom”.

The modern classic of the annual dinners is from 2006 when Stephen Colbert appeared as his signature parody of a conservative media pundit and brutally criticized George W. Bush and the media’s failure to confront his administration. Among the zingers was when he tried to reassure Bush not to pay attention to approval ratings; “we know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in reality. And reality has a well-known liberal bias”. Reports after the dinner claimed that Bush was furious over Colbert’s jokes and especially conservative media pundits agreed that Colbert had gone too far. However, seeing the comedian take on the president as close to mano a mano as you can get is something the audience longs for. In medieval times it was said that the only one who could speak the truth without fear of repercussions was the court jester. Today the court jester is often invisible, even if Jon Stewart is still on the air a couple of months, Larry Wilmore has done an excellent job with the former Colbert Report, and cartoonists like Ann Telnaes of the Washington Post is fighting the good fight. At the White House Correspondent’s Dinner the court jester speaking truth to power should be the main attraction.

Read more…

Columbia College degree in Comedy Writing and Performance Announces National Search for Two Positions

April 23, 2015
by

Anne Libera

 

Columbia College Chicago is hiring two full time lecturer positions to serve its rapidly growing B.A. in Comedy Writing and Performing.

The degree is the only one of its kind in the United ecoetates and had its beginnings in 2007 in a partnership between Columbia College Chicago and The Second City. The Comedy Studies semester provides a semester abroad style program in which students come to Chicago and study comic acting, improvisation, sketch and solo writing, comedy history, and physical and vocal prep for comedy. All courses in the semester are held at The Second City’s historic location on Wells Street in Chicago.

Alumni of the Comedy Studies semester include SNL’s Aidy Bryant, performers for Second City’s resident and touring companies, writers for The Onion as well as network, cable, and Netflix television shows as well as numerous regularly performing stand-up, improv, and sketch comedians, as well as at least one ordained minister.

The B.A. in Comedy Writing and Performing enters its third year in  2015-2016 with an estimated 200 majors. This interdisciplinary degree is housed within the Columbia College Theatre department and builds on the philosophy of the Comedy Studies semester; successful comedians require training and experience as writers, performers, directors, and producers across media. In addition to the semester at The Second City, major requirements include foundation work in theatrical principles and acting, comedy specific training in theory and practice, as well as coursework in television and self-management and freelancing.

Job descriptions for the two positions are listed below. If you have questions about the positions or about the program in general please feel free to contact Program Coordinator and Director of Comedy Studies, Anne Libera at ALibera@colum.edu.


Read more…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,111 other followers