There are not many people whose names appear as a dictionary entry, and even fewer whose names have become adjectives. As of 1966, however, the name “Rube Goldberg” took on an official meaning when it was included in The Random House Dictionary of the English Language to mean “having a fantastically complicated improvised appearance.”

So, who was Rube Goldberg anyway?

Reuben Garrett Lucius Goldberg was born in San Francisco, California, on July 4, 1883. He demonstrated an early aptitude for creativity and started formal art lessons when he was eleven. Hoping to put his drawing skills to “practical” use, Goldberg studied engineering at the University of California at Berkeley. After six months of working as an engineer, however, he quit to take a position as a cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle.

By 1907, Goldberg was ready for the next step in his life. He moved to New York City and restarted his career as a cartoonist at the New York Evening Mail.

Goldberg’s popularity as a cartoonist grew quickly, and by 1915, he was commanding a salary of $50,000 a year. Goldberg was responsible for several different cartoon strips, including “Mike and Ike (They Look Alike),” “Foolish Questions” and “LaLa Palooza.” However, he is probably best known for “The Inventions of Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts,” a cartoon lampooning the incredibly inconvenient mechanisms people create in order to accomplish actual simple tasks. These were the original “Rube Goldberg machines.”

Goldberg also published political cartoons, and even won a Pulitzer Prize in 1942. However, some of his cartoons upset people causing his two sons to change their surname for safety. (His son Thomas decided to honor his brother George by calling himself Thomas George, and George wanted family consistency, so he renamed himself George George.)

When Rube Goldberg retired in 1964, he took up bronze sculpture. He passed away on December 7, 1970.

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