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Three Inventors Who Tried to Bottle the Ocean’s Power


A young man with artistic aspirations could not have resisted the crowds of Market Street on a Saturday night. Nothing was more San Francisco than the street that cut through its heart. Like a weekly fair, all classes of society and the many flags of a port town mixed on the promenade from Powell to Kearny. “Everybody, anybody, left home and shop, hotel, restaurant, and beer garden to empty into Market Street in a river of color,” wrote one young woman of the time.

Among the throngs of sailors and servants, we could almost certainly have found a young Jewish kid with an overbearing father and a canted, humane take on human foibles. Long after the 1890s and far away from the city by the bay, he would make a name for himself with a set of drawings that made him the most popular cartoonist of the machine age.

It’s certainly not much of a stretch to imagine the twelve-year-old Reuben Goldberg participating in the weekly Saturday night parade and happening past a working model of one of the oddest machines he was likely to have encountered on the foggy streets of the city. The Wave-Power Air-Compressing Company was one of a half-dozen concerns that were attempting to harness the waves of the Pacific. And it just so happened to have an office at 602 Market, just a block from the main San Francisco procession. It may have been the sort of place that a machine-obsessed little boy might have found himself wandering on a Saturday night.


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