I’m sure that, by now, every time you see a contraption with a ball rolling down a ramp, bumping a bucket, which splashes a cat, which then runs past a stove and flips a pancake onto your plate, you think to yourself: it’s a Rube Goldberg machine; named for Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) - one of the most influential and prolific cartoonists of the twentieth century.
The Art of Rube Goldberg, an exciting new special exhibition for art lovers, cartooning fans, families, and science enthusiasts, runs through January 21 at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. Bringing together works of art, sketches, video, ephemera and a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoon, this is the first comprehensive exhibition of Rube Goldberg's work since a 1970 Smithsonian retrospective. The exhibition provides an intimate look into the life and legacy of one of the keenest and wittiest observers of modern times. Visitors will have an unprecedented opportunity to explore Goldberg's personal story and his lasting inspiration for generations of aspiring cartoonists, engineers, and tinkerers of all ages.
The Art of Rube Goldberg explores the artistry and wit that made Rube Goldberg one of the twentieth century's most celebrated cartoonists - and a household name. Born in San Francisco, Goldberg graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in engineering. But after working for a year for the San Francisco sewer department, he decided to follow his true passion: cartooning. Rube found modest success in his home town and then moved to New York City, the center of American media in the early twentieth century. Throughout his long career, he chronicled almost every salient aspect of modern American life, touching on everything from fashion and sports to industrialization, gender, politics, and international affairs. Goldberg is most commonly associated with zany contraptions that caught the popular imagination and became, as he put it, “a symbol of man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results.”
Rube could be considered a grandfather of STEAM education. He blended Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math long before the acronym existed. I am particularly excited about the fantastic opportunity The Art of Rube Goldbergoffers to provide news types of educational offerings, including a hands-on area where visitors of all ages can build their own contraptions. While Goldberg never built the machines featured in his iconic invention drawings, visitors of all ages will be able experiment with simple machines and build their own Rube Goldberg machines. In doing so, we’re preserving Rube’s legacy as a leader in American innovation and humor, and inspiring inventive, unconventional thinking in future generations.
Visit NMAJH.org/Rube, for more information and a full schedule of events.
Josh Perelman, PhD, is the Chief Curator & Director of Exhibitions and Interpretation
National Museum of American Jewish History