Rube’s Art

In addition to being a famous cartoonist, Rube Goldberg also "helped map the tangle of San Francisco’s water pipes and sewer mains," reports Dana Jennings in The New York Times (12/10/13). "And like any good cartoonist, he was also an excellent amateur sociologist and anthropologist." While he was best known for his illustrations of "complex contraptions," he also "won a Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for editorial cartooning (for a shockingly dull and bluff take on the threat of atomic war)." (image). Such details are captured in The Art of Rube Goldberg, a collection assembled by Jennifer George – a grandchild – featuring about 700 of his illustrations. (video)

This, of course, represents a small slice of the approximately 50,000 cartoons Goldberg created over "his 72-year career." As Goldberg himself observed in 1930: "In black and white, I consider myself the most prolific inventor in America today. I figure I turn loose roughly 400 inventions a year." In his day, he "was the Thomas Edison of the newspaper comics pages. His inexhaustible reservoir of elaborate contraptions that mutated simple tasks … into madcap and complicated feats of ingenuity made him a rich and famous star, and an adjective in the American lexicon."

Goldberg said that his inventions were a "symbol of man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimum results." They also highlighted a "gleeful slapstick cruelty … a reflection, perhaps, of his understanding that there are no chain reactions without violence, that the 20th century’s industrial and martial upheavals had the terrible potential to make mere cogs of us all, man and beast." However, ultimately he "invented a way to blunt American’s 20th-century lust for efficiency and hyper-rationalism, even if only on the funny pages."

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