Richard Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller (July 12, 1895 – July 1, 1983) was an American systems theorist, author, designer, inventor, futurist and second president of Mensa International, the high IQ society.
Fuller published more than 30 books, inventing and popularizing terms such as “Spaceship Earth”, ephemeralization, and synergetic. He also developed numerous inventions, mainly architectural designs, the best known of which is the geodesic dome. Carbon molecules known as fullerenes were later named by scientists for their resemblance to geodesic spheres.
Fuller was born on July 12, 1895, in Milton, Massachusetts, the son of Richard Buckminster Fuller and Caroline Wolcott Andrews, and also the grandnephew of the American Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller. He attended Froebelian Kindergarten. Spending much of his youth on Bear Island, in Penobscot Bay off the coast of Maine, he had trouble with geometry, being unable to understand the abstraction necessary to imagine that a chalk dot on the blackboard represented a mathematical point, or that an imperfectly drawn line with an arrow on the end was meant to stretch off to infinity. He often made items from materials he brought home from the woods, and sometimes made his own tools. He experimented with designing a new apparatus for human propulsion of small boats.
Years later, he decided that this sort of experience had provided him with not only an interest in design, but also a habit of being familiar with and knowledgeable about the materials that his later projects would require. Fuller earned a machinist’s certification, and knew how to use the press brake, stretch press, and other tools and equipment used in the sheet metal trade.
Fuller taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina during the summers of 1948 and 1949, serving as its Summer Institute director in 1949. There, with the support of a group of professors and students, he began reinventing a project that would make him famous: the geodesic dome. Although the geodesic dome had been created some 30 years earlier by Dr. Walther Bauersfeld, Fuller was awarded United States patents. He is credited for popularizing this type of structure.
One of his early models was first constructed in 1945 at Bennington College in Vermont, where he frequently lectured. In 1949, he erected his first geodesic dome building that could sustain its own weight with no practical limits. It was 4.3 meters (14 ft) in diameter and constructed of aluminum aircraft tubing and a vinyl-plastic skin, in the form of an icosahedron. To prove his design, and to awe non-believers, Fuller suspended from the structure’s framework several students who had helped him build it. The U.S. government recognized the importance of his work, and employed his firm Geodesics, Inc. in Raleigh, North Carolina to make small domes for the army. Within a few years there were thousands of these domes around the world.
For the next half-century, Fuller developed many ideas, designs and inventions, particularly regarding practical, inexpensive shelter and transportation. He documented his life, philosophy and ideas scrupulously by a daily diary (later called the Dymaxion Chronofile), and by twenty-eight publications. Fuller financed some of his experiments with inherited funds, sometimes augmented by funds invested by his collaborators, one example being the Dymaxion car project.