Rube Goldberg in his own words (1922)

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Rube Goldberg machine - Self-Operating Napkin

Rube Goldberg tells how art room crowd tried to haze him

[Original] Editor’s note — We asked RL Goldberg, whose cartoons appear daily in The News, to write something about his career for publication. His story is given below.

by RL Goldberg

I was graduated from the University of California in 1904 after taking a course in mining engineering. I mention this fact merely as a warning to all parents who are thinking of having their sons study mining. Of course, not all students of mining engineering turn out to be cartoonists. Some of them land in the insurance business, while still others became acrobats and bootleggers.

I’ll never forget the first assignment I ever had on a newspaper. It was on the San Francisco Chronicle, where I was drawing down the princely salary of $8 a week — for seven cartoons — very few of which, by the way, the editor considered fit to publish. I spent my spare time sweeping out the office, so the paper did not really lose a large amount of money on me.

rube-goldberg-1930But, speaking of my first assignment, the city editor had a young son who was playing football on a prep school team, and I was sent across the Bay to draw some pictures of the game. As the Chronicle was a morning paper my drawings had to be in the engraving department by ten o’clock at night. I knew I would not get back to the office till nearly seven o’clock, which gave me a comparatively short time to get out my masterpiece.

Nervous and timid

Before leaving the office, I placed several hundred pictures of football players in every imaginable pose on my desk to give me the proper inspiration when I returned to make my drawing. I also arranged my pens, ruler and drawing paper in such a way as to waste the least possible amount of time in getting down to business. I was very uncertain in my draughtsmanship, and needed every advantage under which to work. I was as nervous as a poker player down to his last pants’ button, and every one of the hard-boiled old-timers in the art department knew it. I was timid and had hardly spoken a word with any of them.

I went to the game and made notes of everything from the size of the cheerleader’s megaphone to the number of holes in the fullbacks’ stocking. I rushed back to the office with just enough time left to turn out a drawing, provided everything broke right for me.

When I got there, I found my desk cleared of everything. I tried desperately to open the drawer and found it nailed up tight.

It dawned on me what had happened. The members of the art department had played a practical joke. They knew how uncertain I was of myself and that I would be absolutely helpless without my paraphernalia. They were right. To me, the end of the world had come.

I was almost licked, but a sudden inspiration seized me. I went down to the mechanical department, got a hammer and all the nails I could get my hands on, came back and nailed up every one of the eight desks in the room. Luckily, all the artists were out to dinner and I could make a good job of it. I jimmied open my own desk, put on my hat and went out to eat.

Went back to die

After dinner I knew I had nothing to live for, so I walked right back into the art room to get shot. Of course, I wasn’t shot, or I wouldn’t be writing this. Every artist was as meek as a lamb. I had handed them back their own medicine and they were cured.

Somehow, I got out my drawing and the city editor liked it — possibly because his son was pictured very prominently. From that time on, I was accepted as one of the gang, and I spent some of the happiest moments of my life in that room during the next year. They were a fine bunch of fellows.

Which, in a measure, teaches that it is also a good idea to speak well of your boss’s son.

rube-goldberg-car-powered-by-ducksI came to New York in 1907, the year after the big fire and earthquake in San Francisco. I had heard many tales about young men being discovered in smaller towns by New York publishers and brought east at enormous salaries. Of course I had hopes while working San Francisco of being one of the discoveries myself, but somehow my reputation remained entirely local.

After a reasonable wait, I realized that New York was apt to make a great mistake of not even finding out that I was alive unless I brought that fact forcibly to the attention of the metropolis described by tear-jerking song-writers as “the city where nobody cares.” I had visions of myself being sent for when I was about ninety and too old and shaky to shave myself on a Pullman. So I bought some heavy underwear, said goodbye to the seals at the Cliff House, and came to New York without having the slightest idea upon which part of my anatomy I would eventually land.

Shown out a-plenty

I recall with a feeling of pride that I was shown out of seven newspaper offices before I landed a job on the Evening Mail. One of the chief requirements for admission to the city is to be able to stand a lot of good swift kicking. After taking my full share from seven newspapers, I felt that I had laid the foundation for a career.

I was also shown out of the Mail office the first time I appeared there looking for work. But I was then at such a kickable stage from constant training that I hardly noticed the first experience, and came back the next day for more. I think the sporting editor was sore at the managing editor, and he took me on as a sporting cartoonist to play a mean joke on the paper. Anyway, they’re still using my stuff after fifteen years, and the joke seems to be on the sporting editor.

Six years ago, I realized there was something else in life besides cartoons — we have two fine boys and there’s plenty of room for the family, the cartoons and everything.

The famous "Self-operating napkin"
The famous “Self-operating napkin”
Latest war machine (1942)
Latest war machine (1942)

Pennzoil ad (1943)

Office worker (1951)
Office worker (1951)

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