History of the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest
Machine Competition 2004

In 1949, at the peak of the Goldberg era, the two engineering fraternities at Purdue University, Theta Tau and Triangle, developed their own version of the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. The contest was held as part of the Engineer's Ball, also sponsored at Purdue by the two fraternities. The competition was fierce between the two rival fraternities as raids on the machines before the contest and sabotage at the contest occurred more than once. Soon thereafter, rules were made to disqualify teams attempting such devious actions. The contest died out with the Engineer's Ball in 1955, when the two fraternities no longer sponsored the event.

In 1983, some members at Theta Tau's Phi Chapter became interested in an old trophy they found one day while cleaning. It was the original traveling trophy from Purdue's first Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. After searching out information on the contest, they revived it and produced a guide for others to follow during competition. Doug Berry organized the first competition, which required the machine to pour an eight-ounce cup of water.

Past Contest Challenges:

  • 1987 Put Toothpaste on a Toothbrush
  • 1988 Adhere a Stamp to a Letter
  • 1989 Sharpen a Pencil
  • 1990 Put the Lid on a Ball Jar
  • 1991 Toast a Slice of Bread
  • 1992 Unlock a Combination Padlock
  • 1993 Screw a Light Bulb into a Socket
  • 1994 Make Cup of Coffee
  • 1995 Turn on a Radio
  • 1996 Put Coins in a Bank
  • 1997 Insert and Then Play a CD Disc
  • 1998 To Shut Off An Alarm Clock
  • 1999 To Set a Golf Tee and Tee Up a Golf Ball
  • 2000 To Fill and Seal a Time Capsule with 20th Century Inventions
  • 2001 To Select, Clean and Peel an Apple
  • 2002 To Select, Raise and Wave a National Flag
  • 2003 To Select, Crush and Recycle and Empty Soft Drink Can
  • 2004 To Select, Mark and Cast an Election Ballot
  • 2005 Change Batteries and Turn on a 2-battery Flashlight
  • 2006 Shred 5 Sheets of Paper
  • 2007 Squeeze the Juice from an Orange
  • 2008 Assemble a Hamburger
  • 2009 Replace an Incandescent Light Bulb with a More Energy Efficient Light Emitting Design
  • 2010 Dispense an Appropriate Amount of Hand Sanitizer

The contest's popularity has grown each year that Theta Tau has hosted it at Purdue University. Winners from early years appeared in nationwide press releases and television appearances on "Late Night with David Letterman" and "The Tonight Show," as well as NBC's "The Today Show."

All of this media attention finally paid off in 1988 when Mike Barrett brought about the first National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. The nationwide television, radio, and printed media attention has promoted the growth of the contest to make it bigger and better each year. In 1992, the contest appeared on televisions all over the world as the TV show "Beyond 2000" came to Purdue to film the contest and even spent a day filming the progress of Theta Tau's machine in the fraternity's cramped basement.

The Rube Goldberg Machine Contest has exceeded the hopes and dreams of it's founders. The contest now has the honor of being Purdue's largest media event, drawing more attention than any sport or event at the university. Because of the experience of the contest chairmen of Phi Chapter of Theta Tau at Purdue University, the world wide media attention, and the generosity of the contest's sponsors, the contest continues to grow even today.

Every year, the fraternity, Purdue, and the nation anxiously await the wild display of innovation and genius, as well as confusion and sometimes despair which always accompany the running of the contest.