Rube Goldberg - The Cartoonist

Rube Goldberg has become a well-loved figure due mostly to his cartoon contributions that depict all sorts of complicated inventions. He was even awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his work as an editorial cartoonist. His engineering degree at the University of California Berkeley had provided him with some knowledge of and ideas for his mechanical contraptions. This degree must have fuelled his interest in illustrating contraptions, which he did not really build real models of, but did inspire scientists and engineers from all over the world to do so. His father was the one who wanted him to take what was considered to be a more practical career, as it was earlier mentioned that he was set against his son’s career choice. Rube Goldberg was often discouraged to pursue his artistic tendencies. Ironically, it was his foray into the world of science and a supposedly more practical occupation that provided enough juice into his art. It was his invention comic strips that had later on made him a household name for people who also love to tinker and discover things.


Though Goldberg had worked as a mechanical engineer before, it was his career as a cartoonist that brought him international recognition. It was not just engineering- or mechanical- related drawings that he was able to produce; he actually started off as a sports cartoonist months after leaving his engineering job at the Water and Sewers Department.

Goldberg was not readily accepted into the cartooning world. In fact, he used to earn $8 a week at the San Francisco Chronicle. Not only that: sometimes his artworks did not really get accepted but actually saw the worst part of a trash bin. These all do not sound as if the right start for a renaissance man but it was what happened to Rube Goldberg before he was able to achieve any bit of success that made him well-known.


Even with early rejections, Goldberg was not disheartened. Early on, he showed his positivity. He continued to produce artworks and even accepted janitorial and clerical jobs as his early comics were not yet big hits to put it a little nicely.

He held out hope and was finally given a noteworthy assignment – to sketch athletes during sporting events, as was mentioned in the Early Career section. The added pictures made the newspaper sell more. The publishers realized this and thankfully handed Goldberg with a color comic section. This was the beginning of a prolific career in cartooning, which will also be further touched on below. Goldberg became San Francisco Bulletin’s sports cartoonist. He also worked for the New York Sun and some other newspapers.


Not only was Goldberg a Renaissance Man of sorts by being able to work in both the fields of science and art but he was also pretty diverse in his work as a cartoonist. He started off working as a sports cartoonist but later on moved on to comical works that had been inspired by his engineering knowledge. It was these inventive cartoons that made Goldberg famous. He even won the Pulitzer in 1948 for a political cartoon strip that he illustrated that commented on the dangers of nuclear weapons. This strip shows great political commentary and social concern while also managing to display both comic illustrating skill and interest in science and technology. Despite this awe-inspiring and impressive combination, it was not this political turn in his cartoons that made Goldberg famous. It was his comical but inventive cartoons that sparked interest in the artist. He had already made a name for himself as a wacky cartoonist before he was granted an award for his political cartooning.


The Pulitzer Prize was also followed up by an exhibition set up in his honor at the Washington DC’s Smithsonian Institute. This was done in 1970, only weeks before he died. Rube Goldberg was the first ever cartoonist to have been given this much recognition. So, he would not ever be dethroned from his position. Also, in any career, an award is evidence that the person had shown excellence in his field. He was able to prove that he had chosen the right career because his heart was clearly in it.


Rube Goldberg was not only a diverse artist but he was also a prolific one. This was easy to accomplish because he did work for five newspapers. The New York Evening Mail and the New York Evening Journal were just two of the newspapers that he was contributing to. Somehow, commissioned work made drawing cartoons a requirement. So, Goldberg had to produce a certain number of cartoons at a certain period of time. Apparently, this was not a problem as he was able to father several comic strips of varying topics and premises.

Love for the Arts at Work

The engineer-artist was not just any half-hearted contributor to the cartoon world, either. He was actually one of the founding members of the National Cartoonist Society. Cartooning was, therefore, not just a hobby or a passing interest but an object of devotion. It was not just commissioned work that made Goldberg become a cartoonist; cartooning was not just a means to earn money. Instead, he was someone who truly loved what he was doing.

Salary Raises

In recognition for his contributions to the cartoon world, Goldberg’s works started becoming syndicated starting in 1915. This was also the point when he started becoming well-known. McNaught Syndicate provided the syndication from 1922 to 1934. By 1922, the artist who was earning only $8 a week was earning $100,000 a year.
That was a pretty hefty pay check back then. It could still be considered a reasonable pay check today. Of course, however, we have to consider that Rube Goldberg had made it big and still remained a cartoon icon. Continue to next page.