The world’s best-known search engine varies its logo playfully on its homepage on holidays and whenever it feels like it. On this year’s Fourth of July it looked like this:

Clicking the arrow revealed the animation, a complex and absurd series of actions leading to a minor, if pleasing, result — the basic DNA of a Rube Goldberg device. Goldberg, whose birthday, like the USA’s, happened to be on July 4 (back in 1883), was one of country’s most popular, prolific, and influential cartoonists. His humorous cartoons — the namesake wacky inventions and a handful of panel series — were syndicated nationwide, simultaneously. He also took up political cartooning, and won a Pulitzer Prize for it.

He started here, in the first issues of Cal’s best-known and longest-lasting humor magazine, the California Pelican, which was founded in 1903 and survived, amusing and outraging people for eight decades, give or take. Goldberg drew for a fellow engineering student, Earle C. Anthony*, who founded the Pelican and later made a fortune in automobiles, broadcasting, and other businesses.

Rube Goldberg drew sports cartoons for major San Francisco newspapers before heading to New York and a long, rewarding career. His name lives on — in many dictionaries, as both noun and adjective, and at colleges around the country, in contests (to design contraptions that use highly complex processes to complete simple tasks in multiple steps), and in the Rube Goldberg Collection in the Bancroft Library.

Rube Goldberg Drawing
The real thing — One of many, many cartoon inventions, this Goldberg drawing is part of the Rube Goldberg Collection, which he donated to the Bancroft in 1964, when he stopped drawing professionally at the age of 81. He died in 1970.

The spring 2010 issue of the Cal Alumni Association’s California magazine chronicled a search for a legendary scientific instrument used by one of Goldberg’s Berkeley professors, perhaps the inspiration for his complicated cartoon gizmos.

* Anthony eventually donated millions to the University of California, substantially for graduate fellowships, but also to build the Pelican Building, a small, attractive structure to house his sentimental-favorite creation, the Pelican — which as of the 1960s was still going strong. Now known as Anthony Hall but still guarded by an impressive statue of a pelican, that building today is the home of the Graduate Assembly.