1904: Rube Goldberg, Engineer and Cartoonist, Graduates
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One of the College of Engineering's most famous alumni made his mark by making light of the very discipline he studied. Cartoonist Rube Goldberg's absurdly complex mechanisms for achieving easy results are so ingrained in popular culture that the artist/engineer's name appears in the dictionary as an adjective.
In the midst of the Machine Age, Goldberg poked fun at America's seeming obsession with "building a better mousetrap" through intricate diagrams of chain reactions employing gears, pulleys, shirt-eating moths, burning candles, canaries and even opossums. Selections from this "Inventions" series along with other original illustrations are part of the UC Berkeley Bancroft Library's Rube Goldberg Collection.
Born in San Francisco in 1883, the art-obsessed Goldberg pursued engineering only at the insistence of his conservative parents. Ironically though, it was in a UC Berkeley School of Mining Engineering class taught by Professor Frederick Slate that the artist found what would eventually be recognized as his biggest inspiration.
"In analytic mechanics you were introduced to the funniest-looking contrivances ever conceived by the human mind," Goldberg once said.
Case in point: Slate's Barodik, a surreal system of tubes and retorts in a basement laboratory designed to enable students to calculate the weight of the earth. Professor Slate, along with then-dean of the College of Mining, was also the inspiration for Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts, one of Goldberg's most loved cartoon characters.
After a summer job digging mining tunnels and a post-graduation gig diagramming San Francisco sewers, Goldberg resolved to pursue his first love of cartooning. Successful sports cartoonist stints at the San Francisco Chronicle and the News-Call Bulletin led to a skyrocketing career with the New York Evening Mail, New York Journal and numerous popular magazines of the day. His comic commentary on the zeitgeist culminated in a 1948 Pulitzer Prize for his "Peace Today" editorial cartoon that in a single panel summarized the nation's fear of the atom bomb. But the artist remains best known for his inventions series, immortalized in 1995 on a US postage stamp twenty-five years after his death.
Perhaps the legacy that would have most delighted Goldberg though are the multitude of high school and college courses and contests around the world bearing his name and his sense of engineering for the fun of it.