He is probably the patron saint of inventors everywhere – or at least their idol – for his uncanny ability to devise an incredibly convoluted method to carry out the simplest tasks. In fact the Merriam-Webster dictionary adopted his name as an adjective in 1931 meaning just that, to accomplish something simple through complex means.
Rube Goldberg died on December 7, 1970, at the age of 87, leaving a legacy for inventors and cartoonists alike. He was a founding member and first president of the National Cartoonists Society and is the namesake of its Reuben Award for Cartoonist of the Year. In 1948, he won his own Pulitzer Prize for his political cartooning. And he is the inspiration for many competitions challenging would-be inventors to create machines using his scientific principles.
Professor Butts and the Self-Operating Napkin offers a typical scenario for a Rube Goldberg invention: A soup spoon (A) is raised to the mouth, pulling string (B) and thereby jerking a 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, wiping the user’s chin.