(Richard) Buckminster Fuller Biography (1895-1983)

architect and inventor

Born on July 12, 1895, in Milton, Massachusetts, Richard Buckminster (Bucky)Fuller was to become one of the most creative thinkers of the twentieth century. Fuller was schooled at the Milton Academy and in 1913 entered Harvard University. After being expelled two years later for irresponsible conduct, Fuller found work as a machinist at a Sherbrooke, Quebec, textile mill. During World War I he served briefly in the U.S. Navy.

In 1917, Fuller married Anne Hewlett, the daughter of well-known architect and artist James Monroe Hewlett. Fuller and Hewlett formed a construction company, and after supervising the construction of several hundred houses, Fullerconcluded that custom homes were inefficiently built.

In 1922 one of the Fullers' two daughters, Alexandra, died after a series ofillnesses. Fuller blamed her death partly on a poor physical environment, andhe vowed to improve that environment through comprehensive, anticipatory design. This philosophy became an important guiding force behind all of Fuller'swork.

The following year, Fuller invented the stockade brick-laying method, which consisted of bricks reinforced with concrete poured into vertical holes in thebricks. He went to Chicago, where his mother originally lived, to start a construction company, the Stockade Building System. There he had to battle strong construction workers' unions, which opposed his efficient building methodsfor fear that they would threaten their jobs. By 1927 he was forced to sellthe business.

That year he designed his first factory-assembled Dymaxion house. "Dymaxion"was a term that Fuller used to refer to anything that derived maximum outputfrom minimum material and effort. His "house on a pole" was a self-containedunit suspended from a central mast and included a complete recycling system.

In 1928, Fuller designed his Dymaxion car, an omnidirectional vehicle that gave minimum resistance to the wind. His two-year-old daughter, Allegra, calledthe teardrop-shaped car the "zoommobile." While this vehicle could seat 12 passengers, run at 120 mi (190 km) per gallon, make 180 degree turns, and average 28 mi/gallon (12 km/l), it was an unprofitable venture because no automobile manufacturer would mass produce it. Although Fuller managed to pay off his debts, this enterprise bankrupted him and his family.

Although his motives were mainly altruistic, Fuller's first financial break came in 1940 with his Dymaxion Deployment Unit (DDU). This circular self-cooled living unit with pie-shaped rooms was made of corrugated steel. The Britishpurchased DDUs for use in World War II. Before long, Fuller was shipping them all over the world.

After the war, Fuller went on the lecture circuit and became quite a celebrity. He was appointed Dean at Black Mountain College in North Carolina in 1948,where he developed his Tensegrity Dome, which used tetrahedrons to balance the tension and integrity of the structure.

He left Black Mountain in 1949 and went to work on his geodesic dome . That year he constructed a model of the dome on the lawn of the Pentagon. He applied for a patent on the dome in 1951. Ford Company gave him his first major contract in 1953 to build a dome over the courtyard of the company headquartersin Detroit. The U.S. Defense Department became his largest customer, using his domes as temporary housing units and to house sensitive radar equipment inharsh environments.

Fuller became a research professor at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, in 1959. His stipend of $12,000 was insignificant, but he wasgiven use of an entire building and staff. He went on to propose domes for whole cities, like East St. Louis, to protect them from industrial smog. By thetime of his death in 1983, Fuller's domes were in place worldwide, making Fuller's name equally well known. He received even more attention after the discovery of an important new substance in 1985, two years after his death. Fullerenes are carbon atoms arranged in a sphere-like shape with many pentagonal and hexagonal faces, similar to a soccer ball. These "Buckyballs" canhave up to 600 atoms and have unique properties.

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