Rube Goldberg - Biography and Background

It can be said that Rube Goldberg was quite the jack-of-all-trades during his lifetime. After all, he was a cartoonist, an engineer, an inventor, a sculptor, and a writer. As a writer, he was credited for having written essays, plays, and even poetry. For a time, he also dabbled in playing vaudeville, combining it with stand-up comedy and fortune telling.

However, his claim to fame, and perhaps what can be regarded as his most significant legacy to the world, was the satirical cartoons illustrating human idiosyncrasies ranging from the powerful to the mundane. In particular, the way he depicted technology poked fun at the way human beings tend to utilize modern machines to complicate, rather than simplify, life. It would be safe to say that the life and work of Rube Goldberg was art, humor, and irony rolled into one.


Although he was popularly known as Rube Goldberg, he was born Reuben Garret Lucius Goldberg in San Francisco, California on the fourth of July in 1883. Both of his parents, Max and Hannah Goldberg, were German Jewish immigrants. Rube was a middle child, having been the second of the four Goldberg children. He had an older brother named Garrett and two younger siblings Walter and Lillian.

Young Love for the Arts

The young Rube Goldberg had shown a strong affinity for the arts at a very early age. At four years old, he spent most of his time creating things with his hand and tracing drawings from the book “History of the United States.” His passion for drawing had nearly developed into a fixation by the time he was eight years old. He was tracing illustrations from books and every printed material he could find, including the dailies and even calendars. As a young boy, he would lend a hand in working his friend’s magazine delivery route and take great pleasure in smelling the ink on the pages. In fact, Rube Goldberg was quoted as having said, “The pungent aroma gave me a greater thrill than inhaling the fragrance of the most exquisite perfume." In general, Rube thought of his childhood memories to be happy and not as complicated as the machines he would draw later on.

Mr. and Mrs. Goldberg

The Goldberg family was an upper-middle class family of Jewish heritage. When he was already in his teens, Rube Goldberg’s mother died, and his father did not take on another wife. Aside from his job as a police and fire commissioner, Rube’s father, Max, was also engaged in real estate, banking, and politics. Continue to next page.