When you're done exploring the wonders of a contraption I built years and years ago, check out what I'm up to these days at Jacob Shwirtz :: the Journal.


The purpose of a Rube Goldberg Machine is to build the most complicated machine possible to perform a simple everyday task. Built in '96-'97, this is my second Rube Goldberg Machine. The first one poured a can of soda in 35 steps. This one will turn on a blue-light to reveal a hidden message in 47 steps. Below the description of my 25 seconds of fame is a complete operation summary, followed by pictures with numbers referring to specific steps in the summary. In case you're wondering, it took me over 4 months to build this doozie of a machine!

The hidden message reads as follows: "An artist is someone who produces things that people don't need to have, but the he, for some reason, thought it would be a good idea to give them" -Andy Worhol. It took me 3 hours to write this using CLOROX as my ink, and a toothpick as my pen.

You know how they say everyone has their 15 seconds of fame? Well I thought I had used up all of my time after being on the news years ago with my first machine. But I was nevertheless on The Today Show on NBC, LIVE! It was a pretty cool experience and the following day I was included in an article for the NEWSDAY. The relevant paragraphs are below. I have since learned to give better soundbites to reporters!

"We're not too worried, except about him," one Rube Goldberg participant said, nodding in the direction of Jacob Shwirtz, who was tinkering with his own project several feet away. Jacob Shwirtz had won first prize in the Rube Goldberg Division once before, afterbuilding and impressive structure that featured colorful intricacies like a small electric car that would carry a ball down a ramp and drop it down a chute. But this year's competition began badly for Jacob. He arrived to find that his project had been damaged beyond repair in transit. "I'm disappointed," Jacob said after his third failed attempt. "The smallest things went wrong that never went wrong before."

...but I still won second place !!!

Operational Summary:

(Try not to get TOO confused! For your viewing pleasure I included pictures of the machine at the very bottom of this page)

1) A golf ball is placed into the mouth of a tube in the corner of the machine at a height of one foot.

2) The ball rolls down the tube and hits a seesaw.

3) The Ball is then stopped by a wall.

4) When hit, the seesaw completes a circuit, which activates a motor.

5) This motor pulls up on an attached string, thereby opening the cover to a pack of playing cards which is attached to the other end of the string.

6) The case is suspended at a steep angle, so as the cover is lifted, the cards fall out.

7) The cards fall into a container that is on the raised end of a seesaw.

8) When the cards fall into the container, the opposite end of the seesaw is forced up, thereby completing a circuit which turns on a motor.

9) This motor pulls up a cardboard tube as well as the wall that has held the ball in place until now, allowing the ball to continue.

10) The ball rolls down this tube and then enters a small container attached to a hinge.

11) The momentum from the ball entering the container forces the container to fall.

12) As the container falls, it causes a row of dominoes to fall.

13) The container then delivers the ball into the carriage of an elevator.

14) Meanwhile, as the last domino falls, it completes a circuit, thereby turning on a motor.

15) This motor reels up the elevator.

16) As the elevator approaches the top of the machine, it makes contact with a horizontal bar.

17) Due to the arrangement of the elevator and the horizontal bar, the elevator is forced to tilt.

18) As the elevator tilts, the ball rolls out.

19) The ball then falls into an "L" shaped series of tubes.

20) The momentum from the ball falling into these tubes turns off a "master switch," thereby cutting the power to the three motors used to this point in the machine. This was done to conserve the battery's energy.

21) When the ball approaches the end of the tubes, it falls down. The momentum from this fall lowers the platform it falls into. This ball is now "dead" and is not used again in the machine

22) As the platform is lowered, a switched is turned on.

23) This switch activates a robot. The robot begins ‘walking’ along a fourteen inch cardboard platform.

24) As the robot is forced to fall when it reaches the end of the road.

25) When the robot falls off, a string attached to the robot turns on the switch which is attached to the other end of the string.

26) This switch activates an electric car. There is a ball at rest on the top of the car.

27) The car travels 2 feet and then hits a wall. The wires attached to the car are now pulled between the car and a switch located in the beginning of the car's "track." The wires turn off a "master switch," thereby cutting the power to the robot and the car. This was done to conserve the batteries’ energy.

28) The momentum gained from hitting the wall causes the ball to fall out of the car.

29) The ball falls into a track seventeen inches long.

30) When the track ends and the ball falls down.

31) One inch into its fall, the ball hits a small stick which is attached to a hinge, thereby pushing the stick down.

32) Two and a half inches later, the ball is stopped from falling by another stick which is resting on the entrance to the ball's next track.

33) As the first stick is pushed away, a tube attached to the stick is let loose, and falls vertically down the machine along two attached guide wires.

34) When the tube hits the bottom of the machine, it completes a circuit, thereby turning on a motor.

35) This motor pulls away the stick which restricted the balls movement.

36) The ball continues down a series of tubes which eventually come to an end, thereby causing the ball to fall.

37) As the ball begins to fall it activates a mouse trap

38) The ball falls eleven inches and then enters a container. This ball is now ‘dead’.

39) The momentum from this drop causes the container which is on the raised end of a seesaw to be lowered.

40) As the container is lowered, a string attached to the other side of the seesaw is pulled which turns on a switch attached to the other end of the string.

41) This switch activates a blue-light which reveals a message that was previously hidden. The message is written in Clorox, which "glows" when blue-light is shined on it.

42) Meanwhile, attached to the arm of the mouse trap is a string. The other end of the string is attached to a nail that is supporting a 1kg weight on top of a pole.

43) As the nail is pulled away by the mousetrap being activated, the weight drops down the pole.

44) The weight lands on the raised end of a seesaw. On the other end is a golf ball.

45) As the weight strikes the seesaw, the ball is flung into the air.

46) The ball lands in a series of tubes.

47) These tubes eventually lead the ball to the conclusion of the machine, at a height of one foot.

Rube Goldberg by Jacob Shwirtz - Front View
Rube Goldberg by Jacob Shwirtz - Another Front View
Rube Goldberg by Jacob Shwirtz - Side View

Rube Goldberg by Jacob Shwirtz - A View From Above

Check out my journal, Jacob Shwirtz :: the Journal.

Some other useful Rube Goldberg sites:
Science Resources
Online Learning Environment
Rolling Ball Sculptures