Rube Goldberg Explains the Impossibility of Perpetual Motion

By Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg

In an educational film from 1940, the famous cartoonist pokes fun at ridiculous patents, including those that dream the impossible dream of "getting something for nothing." Courtesy of the Prelinger Archive, the film was sponsored by Chevrolet and has its own agenda. Midway through, the film digresses to explain how even though you can't get something for nothing, the latest combustion engines give you more than ever for the gasoline you buy ("a virtually unlimited source of power!"). 

Alexis Madrigal describes the charm of Goldberg's work in a short profile:

Rube Goldberg was shockingly popular in his heyday. His brilliant "Inventions" series was nationally syndicated beginning in the teens and his style became one of the most instantly recognizable in the nation. He gave his name to our lexicon.

None of Goldberg's mythical machines is remotely practical. "As we move forward along the gadget-strewn path of mechanization we become more and more aware of the general theme, DO IT THE HARD WAY," he once wrote. "The more trivial the product, the more complicated machine."

The cartoons both send-up and memorialize the crazed inventors of America, a breed that was already decreasing in importance by the time Goldberg reached a national audience. Certainly that's a huge part of their appeal. 

Continue reading "Rube Goldberg and the Irreducible Strangeness of Electricity" here.

For more films from the Prelinger Archive, visit http://www.archive.org/details/prelinger.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/03/rube-goldberg-explains-the-impossibility-of-perpetual-motion/254859/