Tuesday, April 15, 2008

W. Heath Robinson (1872-1944) - Humourist, Painter, Book Illustrator and 'Gadget King'

JM and I were having lunch today. The chat moved from global warming to our dependence on fossil fuels and then to renewable resources. And finally to fanciful ways of conserving energy, such as lifts where descending passengers were the 'motor' for ascending ones.

And I remembered W. Heath Robinson. Whose drawings of fanciful highly elaborate mechanical gadgets captured my imagination as a kid. I think it was my grandmother introduced me to his work - I have the vaguest memory of an old and tattered book.

I particularly remember Heath Robinson's useful household gadgets for making pancakes and pealing potatoes ...

... to his most effective ways of keeping dry in wet weather and of improving posture ...

I really love his approach to 'weapons' of war and non-mass destruction, cartooned during the First World War ...

... and those devised for general public service, such as the discarded bubble gum collector.

Finally, there are machines for I-don't-know-what.

But I realize my life is incomplete not having one of each of these about the house!


  1. Where would you have put the deceptive tide? :-)

  2. hey victor. not quite sure by what you meant by 'Where would you have put the deceptive tide? :-)' - it's late at night (nearly 2am locally) and i guess my brain is half asleep! take care and hope to hear soon. nick

  3. Nick - my weak attempt at humour. You commented your life would be incomplete without each of these (useful gadgets) about the house.

    I was referring to 'Deceiving the invader as to the state of the tide' and wondered where 'about the house' you would place such a device.

  4. Are you familiar with Rube Goldberg? He was an American cartoonist who was famous for inventing elaborate cartoon gadgets that would go through 15 or sixteen soberly detailed physical steps (" . . . descending hydraulic boot (K) steps on tail of goose (L) whose squawk frightens cat (M) into kicking over cream pitcher (N) . . .") all in order to do some end work like lighting a cigar or shooing a fly.

  5. sorry victor for not getting it first time round! it was late - a sad excuse. should have looked at the cartoons again! thanks and take care. nick

  6. hey keith. never heard of Rube Goldberg - thanks very much for telling me about him/her - i'll do some goggling in a sec. but i really love the gadgets that go thru lots of steps - my faves! thanks again. nick

  7. As a child in the 1950s, I had some problems with my ears and was sent to a specialist who had posters (or maybe even originals) of these wondrous inventions on his waiting room walls. He also had some Salvador Dalis. I found the 'inventions' endlessly fascinating. I also liked Dali's melting clocks although it would be years before I ever saw the painter's name.

    Enjoy your blog ... the men and the many other subjects that you bring up (i.e. Dorothy Parker awhile back).

  8. hi pinkcanoe. funny how such an innocuous experience can produce such long term influences - lead you into worlds that stay with you for years - as a kid someone casually introduced Dorothy Parker with a poem and i became devoted - one of many literary ones. glad you like the diversity - anything less and i think i'd run out of steam for a blog. hope to hear from you again - till then take care nick