Rube Goldberg Machines!

by Brenda Lee Intengan

Amongst the various oddities and artifacts contained in the Museum of Science and Industry, one of major museums in Chicago and the largest science museum in the Western hemisphere, one very significant piece stands alone in a corner of the lobby, commanding its own space. It’s a crowd pleaser for all ages- its one of those things that keeps the kids absolutely engaged and interested- who doesn’t like to see simple mechanics in motion? Every time I go there I go out of my way to make sure I see it.

The Jollyball is described by the MSI website as “a fascinating mechanical wonder stands more than 7 feet high, 15 feet wide and 5 feet deep. In fact, the Guinness Book of World Records named it the largest flipper machine in the world in 1988.” Created by Charles Morgan, this was the first Rube Goldberg machine that I encountered as a child, sparking a lifelong interest in these gadgety, complex contraptions that bridge the line between art and engineering. If the most interesting part is watching the ball in motion, does this classify it as performance art?

From Wikipedia:

Reuben Lucius Goldberg (July 4, 1883 – December 7, 1970) was an American cartoonist, sculptor, author, engineer, and inventor. Goldberg is best known for a series of popular cartoons he created depicting complex devices that perform simple tasks in indirect, convoluted ways—now known as Rube Goldberg machines.

His name is synonymous now with anything that is a “complex machine designed to perform simple tasks” based on his work creating illustrations such as this:

A year or so ago, I came across another spectacular Rube Goldberg machine, this time in the video for Ok Go’s “When the Morning Comes”:

I’m not sure why I find these machines more intriguing than simple machines that perform complex tasks.

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