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Fascinating facts about R. Buckminster Fuller inventor of the Geodesic Dome in 1954.

R. Buckminster Fuller
AT A GLANCE:
R.
Buckminster Fuller was truly a man ahead of his time. Fuller was a practical philosopher who demonstrated his ideas as inventions that he called “artifacts.” Some were built as prototypes; others exist only on paper; all he felt were technically viable. His most famous invention was the Geodesic Dome developed in 1954. Its design created the lightest, strongest, and most cost-effective structure ever devised. The geodesic dome is able to cover more space without internal supports than any other enclosure.
Inventor: R. Buckminster Fuller
Criteria: First to invent. First to patent. First practical. Entrepreneur.
Birth: July 12, 1895 in Milton, Massachusetts
Death: July 1, 1983
Nationality: American
Invention: Geodesic Dome
Epcot Center Geodesic Dome
Function: noun / structure
Definition: The lightest, strongest, and most cost-effective structure ever devised. The geodesic dome is able to cover more space without internal supports than any other enclosure.
Patent: 3,197,927 (U.S.) issued August 3, 1965

As early as 1959, Newsweek reported that Fuller predicted the conquest of poverty by the year 2000. In 1977, almost twenty years later, the National Academy of Sciences confirmed Fuller’s prediction. Their World Food and Nutrition Study, prepared by 1,500 scientists, concluded, “If there is the political will in this country and abroad . . . it should be possible to overcome the worst aspects of widespread hunger and malnutrition within one generation.” Even with tragedies like Ethiopia and Somalia, it is becoming clear that, as Fuller predicted, we have arrived at the possibility of eliminating hunger and poverty in all the world within our lifetime.

Buckminster Fuller was truly a man ahead of his time. His lifelong goal was the development of what he called “Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science”–the attempt to anticipate and solve humanity’s major problems through the highest technology by providing “more and more life support for everybody, with less and less resources.”

Fuller was a practical philosopher who demonstrated his ideas as inventions that he called “artifacts.” Some were built as prototypes; others exist only on paper; all he felt were technically viable. He was a dogged individualist whose genius was felt throughout the world for nearly half a century. Even Albert Einstein was prompted to say to him, “Young man, you amaze me!”

Born in New England in 1895, Fuller grew up a feisty child in a blue-blooded household. He entered Harvard on a legacy, but was expelled twice (the first time for consorting with a dance troupe); he then turned to the military. Fuller's family connections gained him a Navy command (1917), but his innovative nature --- he invented a winch system for rescuing drowning pilots --- won him an appointment at the Naval Academy in Annapolis (1918). Here Fuller began to develop his "Great Pirates" view of history.

After the death of his daughter (1922), Fuller resigned from the Navy and spent some years depressed and out of work. He resolved this personal crisis by "committing egocide," that is, by transforming his life into an experiment for the benefit of humanity. He started calling himself "Guinea Pig B" ("B" for "Bucky").

In 1927, at the age of 32, Buckminster Fuller stood on the shores of Lake Michigan, prepared to throw himself into the freezing waters. His first child had died. He was bankrupt, discredited and jobless, and he had a wife and new-born daughter. On the verge of suicide, it suddenly struck him that his life belonged, not to himself, but to the universe. He chose at that moment to embark on what he called “an experiment to discover what the little, penniless, unknown individual might be able to do effectively on behalf of all humanity.” Over the next fifty-four years, he proved, time and again, that his most controversial ideas were practical and workable.

Buckminster Fuller is best known for the invention of the geodesic dome, the lightest, strongest, and most cost-effective structure ever devised. The geodesic dome is able to cover more space without internal supports than any other enclosure. It becomes proportionally lighter and stronger the larger it is. The geodesic dome is a breakthrough in shelter, not only in cost-effectiveness, but in ease of construction.

Fuller was one of the earliest proponents of renewable energy sources–solar (including wind and wave)–which he incorporated into his designs. He claimed, "there is no energy crisis, only a crisis of ignorance." His research demonstrated that humanity could satisfy 100% of its energy needs while phasing out fossil fuels and atomic energy. For example, he showed that a wind generator fitted to every high-voltage transmission tower in the U.S. would generate three-and-a-half times the country’s total recent power output.

Fuller originated the term “Spaceship Earth.” His Dymaxion™ Map was awarded the first patent for a cartographic system and was the first to show continents on a flat surface without visible distortion, appearing as a one-world island in a one-world ocean. His World Game® utilizes a large-scale Dymaxion Map for displaying world resources, and allows players to strategize solutions to global problems, matching human needs with resources. His Inventory of World Resources, Human Trends and Needs was created to serve as an information bank for the World Game.

In some ways, Fuller’s most significant artifact is the extensive personal archives that he maintained throughout his life. Buckminster Fuller died in July, 1983, leaving behind him a thoroughly documented 56-year experiment–a testament to the effectiveness of individual initiative.

TO LEARN MORE

RELATED INFORMATION:
The Entrepreneur    from The Great Idea Finder
The Philanthropist
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Invention of the Geodesic Dome   from The Great Idea Finder

ON THE BOOKSHELF:
Critical Path
by R. Buckminster Fuller / Paperback: 471 pages / Publisher: St. Martin's Press (March 2002)
When Critical Path first appeared, it was very taken with how different this world-historical narrative dared to be. The 'Speculative Prehistory' was well outside the bounds of mainstream scholarship. On the other hand, some of the content not labeled as 'speculative' dove-tailed neatly with a lot of history encountered before..

Buckminster Fuller's Universe: His Life and Work
by Lloyd Steven Sieden / Paperback - 511 pages (August 11, 2000) / Perseus Book Group
A sympathetic, even advocator, account of the life and work of the designer, engineer, and architect, interpreting his creations as visible models of his philosophy. Well illustrated, including diagrams showing the principles of his designs.

Buckminster Fuller : Anthology for a New Millennium
by Thomas T. K. Zung, Buckminster Fuller / Hardcover: 416 pages / St. Martin's Press (January 2001)
Great minds most certainly do not all think alike. Case in point: R. Buckminster Fuller, who revolutionized Western thinking and design, even though only a tiny fraction of his ideas were ever developed.

Bucky Works: Buckminster Fuller's Ideas for Today
by J. Baldwin / Paperback: 256 pages /  John Wiley & Sons (1997)
He was an early proponent of geodesic domes--semispherical structures made up of incredibly light and extremely strong triangular components--which he recommended for economical and energy-efficient housing and other purposes

ON THE WEB:
Invention Dimension - Inventor of the Week
Celebrates inventor/innovator role models through outreach activities and annual awards to inspire a new generation of American scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.
Buckminster Fuller Institute
Official Web site for his inventions and his teachings.
About the Fly’s Eye
In 1961 Fuller applied for U.S. Patent #3197927, to introduce his Monohex structures which he called "Fly’s Eye" domes. In 1975 Bucky commissioned John Warren to investigate the design and to prototype the Fly’s Eye domes in fiberglass.
Affordable Housing

Fuller wanted to use the techniques of mass production in creating efficient affordable shelter for the millions of people who needed it around the world.

WORDS OF WISDOM:
“For the first time in history it is now possible to take care of everybody at a higher standard of living than any have ever known. Only ten years ago the ‘more with less’ technology reached the point where this could be done. All humanity now has the option to become enduringly successful." - This confident assertion was made in 1980 by R. Buckminster Fuller

DID YOU KNOW?:

  • During his lifetime he was awarded 25 U.S. patents and authored 28 books
  • rRceived 47 honorary doctorates in the arts, science, engineering and the humanities received dozens of major architectural and design awards including, among many others, the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects and the Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects
  • Created work which found itself into the permanent collections of museums around the world
  • Circled the globe 57 times, reaching millions through his public lectures and interviews.
  • Even Albert Einstein was prompted to say to him, “Young man, you amaze me!”
  • First demonstrated at the Chicago World's Fair in 1933. The Dymaxion Car was a masterpiece of efficiency and economy: it was twenty feet long and held eleven passengers, but was as light as a VW Beetle, had only three wheels, and got thirty miles to the gallon. Fuller's car might have revolutionized the auto industry, but a much publicized crash ---not the fault of the car --- ruined its reputation.
Reference Sources in BOLD Type. This page revised October 9, 2006.
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