Authors: R. Buckminster Fuller

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American scientific writer and inventor

Author Works

Nonfiction:

4-D Time-Lock, 1927 (reprint 1972)

Nine Chains to the Moon, 1938

Survey of the Industrialization of Housing, 1944

Education Automation: Freeing the Scholar to Return to His Studies, 1963

Charles Eliot Norton 1961-62 Lectures at Harvard University, 1963

Ideas and Integrities: A Spontaneous Autobiographical Disclosure, 1963 (autobiography; Robert W. Marks, editor)

World Design Science Decade, 1965-1975: The Design Initiative, 1964

What I Am Trying to Do, 1968

Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, 1969

Utopia or Oblivion: The Prospects for Humanity, 1969

Planetary Planning, 1969

Fifty Years of the Design Science Revolution and the World Game: A Collection of Articles and Papers on Design, 1969

I Seem to Be a Verb, 1970

The Buckminster Fuller Reader, 1970 (James Miller, editor)

The World Game: Integrative Resource Utilization Planning Tool, 1971

Old Man River: An Environmental Domed City, 1972

Buckminster Fuller to Children of Earth, 1972

Earth, Inc., 1973

Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking, 1975

Synergetics Two: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking, 1979 (with Edgar J. Applewhite)

R. Buckminster Fuller on Education, 1979 (Robert D. Kahn and Peter B. Wagschal, editors)

Buckminster Fuller: An Autobiographical Monologue/Scenario, 1980 (autobiography; Robert Snyder, editor)

Basic Biography, 1983 (autobiography)

Grunch of Giants, 1983

Humans in Universe, 1983 (with Anwar Dil)

Inventions: The Patented Works of R. Buckminster Fuller, 1983

Cosmography: A Posthumous Scenario for the Future of Humanity, 1992

Your Private Sky: Discourse, 2001

Poetry:

Untitled Epic Poem of the History of Industrialization, 1962

No More Second Hand God, and Other Writings, 1963

Intuition, 1972

Biography

Richard Buckminster Fuller, a self-described “design scientist,” believed that human beings, by using technology to transform the environment, could do anything they needed to do and become whatever they wanted to be. A descendant of a distinguished New England family, Fuller was born in the Boston suburb of Milton, Massachusetts, in 1895. The glasses that corrected his badly defective vision when he was four years old imbued him with positive feelings about technology that lasted a lifetime. For nine years he attended Milton Academy, where he excelled in science and mathematics but did poorly in such humanistic subjects as English and Latin. After his graduation in 1915, he, like five generations of Fullers before him, entered Harvard University, but unlike those men, who had become ministers, merchants, and politicians, he found his classes “chores” that crushed his spirit. He cut classes and deliberately got into trouble; consequently, he was expelled.{$I[AN]9810001934}{$I[A]Fuller, R. Buckminster}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Fuller, R. Buckminster}{$I[tim]1895;Fuller, R. Buckminster}

The Fuller family sent their son to work at a Canadian factory, and so successful was he as an apprentice mechanic that he got a second chance at Harvard, but he fell again into his maverick role and was “fired” (his word) in 1915. After working in a variety of jobs and after several unsuccessful attempts to enlist, Fuller was finally accepted into the Navy and sent to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Here he enthusiastically absorbed the practical scientific and technological education that Harvard had failed to provide. In the Navy he invented a seaplane rescue device that later earned him a special award. While in the Navy he also met and married Anne Hewlett, the eldest daughter of James Monroe Hewlett, a distinguished architect, mural painter, and stage designer.

Following his discharge in 1919, he rejoined the Armour meat-packing company, for whom he had worked before World War I. After three years with Armour, he became a sales manager for the Kelly-Springfield Trucking Company. Its bankruptcy led him into business with his father-in-law, who had invented a new kind of fibrous concrete building block. In 1922, not long after the start of the Stockdale Building Block Company, the Fullers’ four-year-old daughter, Alexandra, died of influenza. Devastated and despondent, Fuller developed a drinking problem, though he continued to work for his father-in-law’s company, whose success resulted in the construction of factories in the East and Midwest. When the fourth plant was built in Joliet, Illinois, in 1926, Fuller and his wife moved to Chicago, where Allegra, their second daughter, was born in 1927. Unfortunately, not long after this move, Hewlett lost control of his company and was forced to sell his shares of stock to a large business firm. Fuller, now jobless and with a wife and child to care for, hit what he later called the “rock-bottom point” of his life. Believing that he was ruined, he contemplated suicide one night on the shores of Lake Michigan, but he concluded that he had no right to eliminate himself, since he belonged to the universe, not to himself. He resolved to discover the basic principles of the universe and give them to his fellow human beings. During the “silent year” of 1928 that followed these deliberations, he stopped drinking and developed a program (called 4-D for four-dimensional) that promoted thinking in time instead of only in space–thinking of consequences for humanity instead of immediate personal gain. In his personal notes he reminded himself never to express his theoretical ideas in public until he had developed an actual invention to concretize them. Ultimately, he believed, machines could take over most work and humans could then devote themselves to devising ways of doing more with less.

In the middle period of Fuller’s life, from 1927 to 1946, he attempted to disseminate his ideas and inventions, convinced that humans were on the brink of a new era. His work centered on industrialized housing; for example, he designed a steel, aluminum, and plastic “dymaxion house” that had floors suspended by cables from a central mast and outer walls of continuous glass (“dymaxion” was the word he used for getting the most out of available technology). Though the American Institute of Architects rejected this lightweight house (along with all other prefabricated housing), Fuller continued to look for ways to maximize the advantages people could gain from a minimal use of energy and materials.

In the 1930’s Fuller developed a revolutionary three-wheeled vehicle that he insisted was not a car but the “land-taxiing phase of a wingless . . . flying device.” He managed to get enough financial support to produce three prototypes. Initial trials were successful but future development was quashed by the negative publicity surrounding a fatal accident involving one of the prototypes. Following this failure, he went to work for the Phelps-Dodge Corporation, the third-largest copper company in the world, devising ways of patterning world economic trends so that predictions of future trends could be made. In his 1938 book Nine Chains to the Moon he made insightful predictions about general education via television and a future energy crisis, but his main theme was that the world’s real wealth was energy rather than gold. His writing received further stimulus when he became a scientific and technical consultant for Fortune magazine.

During World War II the U.S. government enlisted Fuller’s expertise in constructing thousands of mobile dymaxion deployment units. In 1943 he attracted serious attention with his dymaxion air-ocean world map, particularly when Life magazine published a version showing the earth’s entire surface in a two-dimensional undistorted view. During the final months of the war he got the federal government to release aluminum for the prototype production of a new version of his dymaxion circular housing unit (called the Wichita house). Government officials hoped that the mass production of these houses would provide employment for workers no longer needed to build warplanes and would help mitigate a postwar housing shortage. As with his other prefabricated-housing projects, however, the construction industry showed little enthusiasm for the Wichita house, and the project was eventually abandoned.

After these many frustrations, Fuller was finally successful with his design of the geodesic dome, patented in 1947. These hemispherical structures, made of interlocking triangular components, were lightweight and strong, space-efficient, and inexpensive. The dome marked a new phase of his life, during which he turned away from industry and looked to the academic world for help. At Black Mountain College, for example, in the hills of North Carolina, he was able to deepen his thinking about a new form of architecture whose chief example was the geodesic dome. He also set up two companies, Geodesics, Inc. and Synergetics, Inc., to manufacture these domes. A breakthrough commission came in 1953 when the Ford Motor Company entrusted him with constructing a huge dome to cover its Rotunda Building in Dearborn, Michigan. During the next three decades, governments, corporations, and individuals had more than 300,000 of these domes built, and they populated the planet, from “radomes” in Alaska and northern Canada (to contain radar installations) to domes at the South Pole (to shelter American scientific research facilities). The geodesic structure that housed the United States pavilion at Expo 67, the world’s fair in Montreal, was one of Fuller’s most-admired designs.

In the 1960’s Fuller again began putting his ideas in articles and books. Sometimes he wrote in poetry; his Untitled Poem on the Epic of Industrialization showed how science could teach humans to construct a livable and efficient civilization. At other times his books resulted from his lectures; in 1962 Harvard University recalled its errant former student to become the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry, and a book of his lectures was published in 1963. His principal academic post through the 1960’s and 1970’s was at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, where he was, successively, research, university, and emeritus professor. It was during this time that he introduced his influential idea of our planet as a cosmic spaceship whose human passengers’ only wealth consisted of energy and information (he developed this idea in detail in his 1969 book Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth). In other books such as Utopia or Oblivion, Planetary Planning, and Earth, Inc., he showed how human beings have the ability, through a wise use of the earth’s resources, to feed and house themselves and live in workless leisure.

In later life, the energetic Fuller did not retire but spent as much time as he could traveling around the world, giving hundreds of lectures, and preaching his optimistic gospel that technology could solve most human problems. He died of a heart attack in 1983 at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles. His wife, who was also critically ill, died not long after her husband.

In his self-characterization Fuller saw himself as “a comprehensive, anticipatory design scientist,” but in the eyes of others he was much more–an inventor, entrepreneur, engineer, geometrician, cartographer, architect, scientist, philosopher, poet, artist, cosmogonist, writer, teacher, guru, futurist, and visionary. This citizen of the future espoused ambitious global plans aimed at making Homo sapiens a success in the cosmos. In his writings and inventions he tried to merge nature and technology to reveal how technology could improve and multiply nature’s patterns and principles to enhance human potential and productivity. In his sometimes eccentric way, Fuller gave people confidence in their innate abilities to overcome the most complex problems. He made people feel at home in what he believed was their universe.

BibliographyClose, G. W. R. Buckminster Fuller. Monticello, Ill.: Council of Planning Librarians, 1977. A comprehensive bibliography and an analytic introduction.Hatch, Alden. Buckminster Fuller: At Home in the Universe. New York: Hatch, 1974. A personal biography by a longtime friend.Kenner, Hugh. Bucky: A Guided Tour of Buckminster Fuller. New York: Morrow, 1973. Uses drawings, anecdotes, biographical analysis, and the tools of the literary critic to explain Fuller’s ideas to an audience untrained in technology.McHale, John. R. Buckminster Fuller. New York: G. Braziller, 1962. Emphasizes Fuller’s architectural accomplishments.Marks, Robert W. The Dymaxion World of Buckminster Fuller. New York: Reinhold, 1960. Uses copious illustrations to explain Fuller’s ideas, inventions, and constructions.Pawley, Martin. Buckminster Fuller. London: Trefoil, 1990. Part of a series on heroes of the twentieth century.Rosen, Sidney. Wizard of the Dome: R. Buckminster Fuller, Designer for the Future. Boston: Little, Brown, 1969. Uses a biographical approach to elucidate Fuller’s principal theories and works.Sieden, Lloyd Steven. Buckminster Fuller’s Universe: An Appreciation. New York: Plenum Press, 1989. Uses Fuller’s life as a framework for translating his ideas into a form understandable by the general reader.Zung, Thomas, ed. Buckminster Fuller: An Anthology for the New Millennium. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001. Provides a compilation of Fuller’s writings, critical essays, and biographical information.
Categories: Authors