Rube Goldberg: it’s a name so closely associated with ridiculously complex machinery, so synonymous with the image of the crazy inventor, that it’s sometimes easy to forget he was a real person. Starting at the beginning of the last century, Goldberg’s ‘Inventions’ series was syndicated nationally, quickly making him a popular, household name. By the time this film was made in 1940, he was world famous and immensely popular.
This classic film, a piece of Chevrolet advertising cleverly masked in the form of an educational short, humorously explores some of the most ridiculous patents, building up to the subject of its title “getting something for nothing” — the seductive idea of the perpetual motion machine. The 8 minute film then leaves Goldberg at the drawing board — looking dapper in a double-breasted suit — to explore the wonders of the combustion engine and its power source: gasoline. You’d think fossil fuel could provide perpetual motion the way it’s described as “a virtually unlimited source of power!” Many things have changed since 1940, from style to fuel efficiency, but we still don’t have those mythical, never tiring machines.
“Many of the younger generation know my name in a vague way and connect it with grotesque inventions, but don’t believe that I ever existed as a person. They think I am a nonperson, just a name that signifies a tangled web of pipes or wires or strings that suggest machinery. My name to them is like a spiral staircase, veal cutlets, barber’s itch—terms that give you an immediate picture of what they mean.” – Goldberg in his book Inventions: The Legendary Works (A) of America’s (B) Most Honored (C) Cartoonist