The Rube Goldberg Machine Contest (RGMC) is named after the late cartoonist Reuben Lucius Goldberg. Having died in 1970, he lives on in the RGMC as puzzling machines with crazy mechanisms are built in the spirit of his illustrations.
For 55 years the award-winning engineer turned cartoonist drew machines and contraptions that satirized the new machines and gadgets being built. His drawings, using simple gadgets and household items already in use, were incredibly complex and wacky, but had an ingenious, logical progression to them. Goldberg’s inventions became so widely known that Webster Dictionary added the term “Rube Goldberg” to its listings, defining it as “accomplishing by extremely complex, roundabout means what seemingly could be done simply.”
In the words of the inventor, the machines were a “symbol of man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results.” He believed that most people preferred doing things the hard way than using a more simple and direct path to accomplish a goal.
In 1949, at the peak of the Goldberg era, the two engineering fraternities at Purdue University, Phi Chapter of Theta Tau Fraternity and Triangle Fraternity, developed their own version of the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. The contest was held as part of the Engineer’s Ball, also sponsored by the two fraternities. The contest died out with the Engineer’s Ball in 1955, when the two fraternities no longer sponsored the event.
In 1983, some members of the Phi Chapter of Theta Tau Fraternity became interested in an old trophy that they found while cleaning one day. It was the original traveling trophy from Purdue’s first RGMC. After diligently searching out information on the contest, they resurrected the event. They also made it a point to produce a guide for others to follow in order to successfully start a competition.
All the attention finally paid off in 1988 when the first National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest was launched. Nationwide television, radio and printed media attention promotes the growth of the contest to make it bigger and better each year. In 1992, the first contest appeared on television when Beyond 2000 came to Purdue to film the contest.
Past national contest winners have been featured on Newton’s Apple, The History Channel, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Late Night With David Letterman, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live!, NBC’s Today Show, CBS’s This Morning, The CBS Evening News, CNN and Good Morning America.
The RGMC contest was expanded to the high school level in 1996 with the support of the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory. In 2012, RGI launched The International Online Rube Goldberg Machine Contest for
2013 Hammer A Nail
2012 Inflate A Balloon and Pop It!
2011 Watering A Plant
2010 Dispense an Appropriate Amount of Hand Sanitizer into a Hand
2009 Replace an Incandescent Light Bulb with a More Energy Efficient Light Emitting Design
2008 Assemble a Hamburger
2007 Squeeze the Juice from an Orange
2006 Shred 5 Sheets of Paper
2005 Change Batteries and Turn on a 2-battery Flashlight
2004 Select, Mark and Cast an Election Ballot
2003 Select, Crush and Recycle and Empty Soft Drink Can
2002 Select, Raise and Wave a U.S. Flag
2001 Select, Clean and Peel an Apple
2000 Fill and Seal a Time Capsule with 20th Century Inventions
1999 Set a Golf Tee and Tee Up a Golf Ball
1998 Shut Off An Alarm Clock
1997 Insert and Then Play a CD Disc
1996 Put Coins in a Bank
1995 Turn on a Radio
1994 Make Cup of Coffee
1993 Screw a Light Bulb into a Socket
1992 Unlock a Combination Padlock
1991 Toast a Slice of Bread
1990 Put the Lid on a Ball Jar
1989 Sharpen a Pencil
1988 Adhere a Stamp to a Letter
1987 Put Toothpaste on a Toothbrush
Purdue University News provides a dedicated Rube Goldberg page that has information, results and videos of contests going back to 1999. Click Here!