The 30th Anniversary of the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest® Live Finals will be held at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago from Friday, April 20, 2018 to Sunday, April 22, 2018. Thousands of students will compete to pour a bowl of cereal in the most complicated and comical way. Click here to register for the contest or copy and paste https://www.rubegoldberg.com/contests/.
Rueben (“Rube”) Goldberg (1883-1970) was an engineer, inventor, sculptor, author, and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist who often depicted elaborate contraptions that worked through chain reactions. He was the founding president of the National Cartoonists Society and is the eponym of the Reuben Award, which the National Cartoonists Society has awarded annually at a black-tie banquet since 1954. Today, most people are familiar not so much with Goldberg’s work directly but with his gag mediated through other works, the way people of my age cohort or younger sometimes come to J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium through works inspired by his novels such as Dungeons & Dragons or World of Warcraft, Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc. Inspired by Goldberg’s comic strip, many cartoons and live-action films and television episodes feature either (a) an improvised contraption (commonly known as a Rube Goldberg machine, also known as a Goldberg device) or (b) a chain reaction of events that lead to a comical outcome that within the world of the story may not be pre-planned. Usually, a Rube Goldberg device, whether designed by Goldberg himself or one of his admirers, is an unnecessarily complicated means of achieving a simple task. Many Rube Goldberg devices appear in cartoons, particularly Loony Tunes and Tom & Jerry episodes. In spirit, if not in actual design, every single invention Wallace made in the stop motion animation Wallace and Gromit short films and feature film was a Rube Goldberg device. The most impressive example of a Rube Goldberg device in a hand-drawn cartoon was in The Great Mouse Detective (1986), a Disney feature film adaptation of children’s books about a mouse detective by Eve Titus (1905-2002) modeled on Sherlock Holmes. The film owed more than a little to the classic Basil Rathbone (1892-1967) films released by 20th Century Fox in 1939 and Universal Studios between 1942 and 1946. Often in the later films, which were set in the 1940s, Professor Moriarty placed the life of Holmes in jeopardy with an elaborate death trap. The mathematician-crime lord could not help showing off. In another reference to the Basil Rathbone films (and possibly The Great Mouse Detective), the C.B.S. series Elementary, which features Johnny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson in modern New York City, the opening credits play over a Rube Goldberg device. In the Home Alone film series, young Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) defends his home and a toy store form the Wet Bandits (played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) with Rube Goldberg devices. “The Goldberg Variation,” Season 7, Episode 6 of The X-Files (1993-2002) centers on F.B.I. Agents Mulder and Scully (David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson) investigating Henry Weems (Willie Garson), a man with very good luck and a fascination with Rube Goldberg machines who cheats death multiple times, with each instance involving a chain reaction of events that leave him alive and may leave others dead. This was a comedic, stand-alone episode, so the characters who die on screen are mobsters with the Chicago Outfit.
On February 16, 2018, Rube Goldberg, Inc. in New York City announced it “continues to celebrate laughter and invention through the annual RUBE GOLDBERG MACHINE CONTEST®, which is celebrating its 30th annual by having its Live Finals relocated to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago April 20-22, 2018. Registration is now open and students of all ages across the country are encouraged to enter in this year’s contest, which will also premier an Apprentice Division for the first time, aimed at kids in elementary school.”
“We’re excited and honored to be at the Museum of Science and Industry for this very special year in our history,” stated Jennifer George, the RUBE GOLDBERG MACHINE CONTEST®’S Legacy Director and granddaughter of Rube Goldberg. “We’re both committed to creating a fun and engaging experience where kids not only learn a lot about S.T.E.M., they also learn to laugh at the same time.”
Started in 1988 as a college competition, the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest® uses the invention cartoons of the Goldberg as its inspiration. Since that time, thousands of students, teachers, hosts, inventors, museum personnel, and Goldberg fans have participated. The competition is also a learning experience which falls into the category of S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) / S.T.E.A.M. (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) education. According to Rube Goldberg, Inc., “Rube Goldberg is often referred to as ‘the grandfather of S.T.E.M.’”
Each tear, the contest focuses on a defined task which every machine is designed to accomplish. For 2018, the simply task is ‘Pour a Bowl of Cereal.” General Mills is the 2018 Task Sponsor of the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest®. Rube Goldberg, Inc. stated, “Students from elementary [school] to the university level are encouraged to make this simple task ridiculously complicated and will be judged on their teamwork, creativity, and spirit of Rube Goldberg.”
“We’re very excited to host the Live Finals this year, as The Museum of Science and Industry, America’s foremost science museum since 1933, has always focused on hands-on, experiential learning. We’re looking forward to seeing the comical, creative and complicated Rube Goldberg Machines come to life in our community,” stated Anne Rashford, The Museum of Science and Industry’s Director of Special Exhibitions and Business Partnerships.
Registration for the contest will remain open through March. There are four divisions to accommodate students at all school levels.
The aforementioned Jennifer George has written a book about her grandfather, The Art of Rube Goldberg, which is now in its fourth printing. She heads Rube Goldberg, Inc., which is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to S.T.E.M. and S.T.E.A.M. education. The organization states it is “dedicated to keeping laughter and invention alive through the legacy of its namesake. Annual competitions, image licensing, merchandising, and museum and entertainment opportunities continue to grow and enhance the brand.”
The Museum of Science and Industry is housed in the Palace of Fine Arts from Chicago’s first World’s Fair, the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893) in Jackson Park in Hyde Park (Community Area #41) on the South Side of Chicago. Charles B. Atwood (1849-1895) was Chief Architect of the World’s Columbian Exposition, personally designed the Palace of Fine Arts. After the World’s Fair ended, this building housed the Columbian Field Museum, which evolved into The Field Museum of Natural History, until 1920. The South Park Commission, which later merged with Chicago’s twenty-one other parks districts to form the Chicago Park District, initially wanted to demolish the building. However, the famous local sculptor Lorado Taft (1860-1936) rallied architects from the around the U.S.A. and local women’s clubs to save the building. The South Park Commission asked voters to approve the sale of $5,000,000 in bonds to finance restoration of the building to serve as a science museum, trade school, sculptural art museum, and convention center. Dr. Charles R. Richards, author of The Industrial Museum and Director of the American Association of Museums, attested to the suitability of the Palace of Fine Arts as the future home of a science museum in 1925. The next year, Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932), President of Sears, Roebuck & Company, who was already a famous philanthropist, told The Commercial Club of Chicago he would back an interactive science museum like Oskar von Miller’s Deutsches Museum von Meisterwerken der Naturwissenschaft und Technik (German Museum of Masterworks of Science and Technology) in Munich, Bavaria, Germany. He pledged to endowment the institution with $3,000,000. [He and his heirs later helped pay to restore the building when the public funds proved to be insufficient.] That same year, the Museum Association incorporated as the Rosenwald Industrial Museum, but he asked his fellow trustees to remove his name and in 1929 it became the Museum of Science and Industry (M.S.I.). The M.S.I. opened in three stages between 1933 and 1940. It opened to the public on July 1, 1933, which coincided with Chicago’s second World’s Fair, A Century of Progress International Exposition (1933-34), which opened in Burnham Park on June 1, 1933.
Figure 1 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: This is the Central Pavilion and front lawn of the Museum of Science and Industry in Jackson Park in Hyde Park on the South Side of Chicago.
Figure 2 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: This is the Central Pavilion of the Museum of Science and Industry seen from across the Columbia Basin in Jackson Park.
Figure 3 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: Students choose different power sources to fuel Chicago as they take on the role of power engineers in the “Future Power” game, part of the Future Energy Chicago exhibit.
Figure 4 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: This is Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle, as seen on May 17, 2014. The nine-square-foot castle has 1,500 miniatures.
Figure 5 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: This is the Pioneer Zephyr, also known as the Burlington Zephyr, in the exhibit All Aboard the Silver Streak under the front lawn of the Museum of Science and Industry.
Figure 6 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: This is the U-505 Submarine in the McCormick Tribune Foundation Exhibition Hall, which is also under the front lawn.
Figure 7 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: These are the Stuka Junkers-87B-2 Diver Bomber, Supermarine Spitfire, and 727 (with the cab of the 999 steam locomotive in the bottom left-hand corner) in the Museum of Science and Industry’s Transportation Gallery (East Court).
Figure 8 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: This is The Great Train Story (with the 999 steam locomotive in the background) in the Transportation Gallery as seen on June 4, 2010.
Figure 9 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: This is the biology exhibit YOU! The Experience on the balcony floor in Rosenwald Court (North Court) of the Central Pavilion.
Figure 10 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: This is the mathematics exhibit Numbers in Nature: A Mirror Maze off the South Court of the Central Pavilion.
Figure 11 Credit: J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry Caption: This is the physics exhibit Science Storms in the West Court of the Central Pavilion.
Located in the northeast corner of Jackson Park, the Museum of Science and Industry stands on 57th Street at the intersection with Lake Shore Drive. Currently, the Museum is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., but during peak periods (including March 24-30, 2018 and April 2-8, 2018) it is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The address is 5700 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60637. The Website is https://wwwmsichicago.org/. The phone number is (773) 684-1414.
 This setup was also used seemingly in every episode of Batman (1966-1968) to create a cliff-hanger, though these lethal traps were not generally as sophisticated as Rube Goldberg devices.
 Although this 1999 X-Files episode was comedic, it may have inspired the five Final Destination horror films released between 2000 and 2011, which feature a group of characters in each film who cheat death due to one character having a premonition, only for most of the characters to later die gruesome deaths in unlikely accidents.