Rube Goldberg: He Did Exist

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Everyone has heard something described as a Rube Goldberg machine, but few these days know where the phrase comes from. It is from Reuben Goldberg, born 1883 and died in 1970: engineer, cartoonist, writer, and artist.

A book called Inventions (NY: Simon Schuster, 2000) collects his most famous material, mostly consisting of hilarious and overcomplicated machinery to accomplish simple tasks like turning a page of music or emptying out sand from shoes or closing a window. In a goofy sort of way, his works celebrates the inventor and innovator, and the problem-solving spirit.

Each contraption takes a few minutes to figure out, as the cartoonist explains to the reader the workings of each part. There’s always one implausible step that will guarantee failure in real life, but that’s also part of the fun. His work still holds up for both kids and adults.

What surprised me, however, was to discover that Mr. Goldberg seems to have been very solid on politics too. All the drawings in the politics section show government as the most complicated and unworkable machinery of all, that nonetheless does accomplish its primary goal of giving some people power at others’ expense.

The drawing to the right is perhaps the best visual description of central planning I’ve seen.

Jeffrey Tucker [send him mail] is editorial vice president of

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