October 1977 | Volume 28, Issue 6
Long before the energy crunch became a crisis, Rube Goldberg was lampooning the American fascination with gadgetry that helped bring it about. His first invention—an “automatic weight reducing machine ” that employed a doughnut, a bomb, a balloon, a hot stove, and a giant hell to strip pounds from a fat man—appeared in the New York Evening Mail in 1914. Thereafter, until his death in 1970, Goldberg was a national favorite, and his name became synonymous with any complicated device intended to perform a simple task.
Goldberg once explained that the inspiration for his inventions—and for their inventor, Professor Lucifer G. Butts—came fro m college chemistry classes: “You know how the professor stands up behind a long table … with a lot of retorts and test tubes and bottles and lamps … all strung out in front of him, and starts at one end to demonstrate something and winds up at the other end with the absolute proof that something or other has one per cent of sodium in it. “No matter how convoluted his schemes, Professor Butts bent every effort to minimize the energy expended.
Butts and his creator are gone now, just ivhen we need them most. But, as shown by the seriously patented inventions on the following two pages, real-life tinkerers were at work on the problem before Goldberg came on the scene. We offer their ideas as our contribution to the energy debate; perhaps their time has come at last.