Rube Goldberg, STEM & Creativity

A cartoon of an original Goldberg machine.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrase Rube Goldberg?

For most it’s a vision of an overly complicated machine, constructed from common household materials to accomplish one simple task. These whimsical creations are known as Rube Goldberg Machines, best exemplified in motion by Pee-Wee Herman’s breakfast making contraption in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure or Ok-Go’s music video for the song This Too Shall Pass.

Rube Goldberg Machines are the perfect marriage of STEM based engineering and pure creativity.

Goldberg drawing at his desk, juxtaposed with an original cartoon.

Many will be surprised to know that the idea for Rube Goldberg Machines comes from the amazing mind of cartoonist and inventor Rube Goldberg. Yep, Rube Goldberg was a real person. An inspirational, overachiever who started his career as an engineer but quickly shifted to peruse a career as a cartoonist. Over his lifetime Rube produced over 50,000 comic strips, won the Pulitzer prize for political cartooning and co-founded the National Cartoonist Society.

Rube Goldberg Fun Fact: Rube Goldberg is the only person to ever have their name included in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary as an adjective.

Today Rube Goldberg’s legacy lives on through the annual Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, where teams of students compete to bring Rube Goldberg’s vision to life in the most creative way possible.


In 2018 as part of the 30th Anniversary of the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest we had the opportunity to partner with Rube Goldberg and General Mills to create a series of six S.T.E.M inspired Rube Goldberg cereal boxes.

Each box was designed to introduce kids to one of the six simple machines that form the basis of engineering as they built their own Rube Goldberg machine. Like Rube Goldberg’s original machines, these package designs combined the math and science of a well-engineered device with the creativity of visual storytelling to give kids something they’ve never experienced on a cereal box

In our 30-years of designing for kids, this was one of the most rewarding and most talked about projects we have ever worked on. It has helped to broaden our scope of think about what’s possible when it comes to tactile interaction between consumers and their favorite brands.


This summer, a new Rube Goldberg traveling exhibit has arrived at the Minnesota Children’s Museum, just a few miles from our offices here in Minneapolis. Of course, we had to visit.

The new exhibit, co-created by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and the Heirs of Rube Goldberg, gives kids and kids-at-heart the chance to build their own Rube Goldberg machines as they learn basic principles of engineering and STEM. It’s a hilariously fun, innovative and engaging exhibit. Our morning there left us filled with inspiration and insight into new ways to engage and challenge kids with our work.


Our visit to the exhibit was part of our continued efforts to understand how kids experience the world in an effort to better entertain and engage them on their terms.

Last year we shared these learning with several of our clients in a presentation called Kidtopia. Kidtopia is a deep dive into today’s youth, covering the universal truths of childhood, what’s unique to today’s kids, changing family dynamics and concluding with our eight rules for effectively creating for and communicating with kids these days.

If you’re interested in learning more about Kidtopia or would like to schedule a presentation, please contact Julia (at) ultracreative (dot) com.