Flying Cars, Cloud Cities and Other Forgotten Inventions of Buckminster Fuller

Buckminster Fuller might best be known for the molecules named after him and dome designs that inspired structures such as the Epcot center. But even more impressive is The New Yorker's rundown of Fuller's life and forgotten inventions, such as his three-wheeled, all-terrain car with a periscope, cities designed to float in the clouds or bathrooms designed like refrigerators. Here are a few of my favorite "Bucky" facts from the article:

  • After nearly going bankrupt in 1927, Buckminster Fuller moved his family to a Chicago slum so he could spend his days in the library reading works from the likes of Gandhi and Da Vinci. By 1928, he had compiled 2,000 pages of notes into a 50 page manuscript entitled "4D Time Lock." It was basically described as incomprehensible nonsense. From here, Fuller began work on his Dymaxion line of inventions focused around utopian living.
  • The Dymaxion Car, built in 1933, was blimp shaped, sat on three wheels and had a periscope instead of a rear window. Fuller had a vision that the evolution of housing would lead to pre-fabricated homes that could be put anywhere, so people would be living in places like Antarctica or the Sahara, and would need an all-terrain vehicle to get around. The car could turn 180 degrees on a dime, and would often cause traffic jams from slack-jawed onlookers. Future designs for the car called for it to fly using a VTOL mechanism, but a fluke accident at the Chicago World's Fair killed production of the vehicle in 1934.
  • Fuller viewed the (still popular) individual homebuilding process as inefficient and antiquated, which gave way to his Dymaxion Home project. He thought homes should be built like cars; constructed in a day, exactly the same as the rest. The Dymaxion Home would have all the necessary amenities and would be installed in lightweight towers. The towers themselves would be constructed in a central location and transported to the building site via Zeppelin, where a bomb would be used to excavate the land. When a family was ready to move, the home could be packed up, removed from the tower and taken to the next site. Unfortunately, Fuller was unconcerned with the availability of the technology he called for, which made building these homes nearly impossible.
  • The Dymaxion Bathroom was intended to be built like a refrigerator, with a sink, toilet and bath condensed into a modular unit that could be placed anywhere in the home. Thirteen models were produced before production was nixed in 1936.
  • Bucky's most bizarre concept was his Cloud Nine project, which consisted of communities built inside ginormous, super light spheres covered in polyethelyne. Apparently, when the sun hit the spheres and created enough hot air, they would rise up into the sky, essentially creating cloud cities (sans Billy Dee Williams). I don't think further explanation is needed to show why this never happened.
  • But Fuller's most realized innovation were his Geodesic domes. Utilizing aluminum struts and fiberglass panels, Fuller made a dome which covered 93 feet and only weighed 8.5 tons, catapulting him to design fame. His services as a speaker and thinker became popular from universities and the Pentagon alike. Obsessed with the shape for their volume optimizing qualities, Fuller wanted to house entire cities under domes and shield residents from the elements, where energy would be conserved and money saved. His envisioned Manhattan covered in a two-mile dome, and more domes in the Arctic, Antarctic and Tokyo Bay.

Buckminster Fuller's failed inventions aren't the only things worth reading about. There are plenty of great anecdotes about his eccentric life — like how he was expelled from Harvard using his tuition money to entertain a group of chorus girls and spent a significant chunk of time only eating prunes, steak, tea,and...umm...Jell-O (unmentioned is that he also served as the second president of MENSA). Basically, he was awesome. [The New Yorker]