stockade

The Lost Inventions of Buckminster Fuller – Kindle Edition

Buckminster Fuller is widely known as the inventor of the geodesic dome, tensegrity, the Dymaxion Dwelling Unit and more. The Lost Inventions of Buckminster Fuller brings Fuller’s role in all of these discoveries into question, while presenting hard evidence that he is under-credited for many other remarkable inventions.

Trevor Blake (author of The Buckminster Fuller Bibliography) is a leading independent scholar on Fuller. Also found in this book are an analysis of geodesic dome integrity when subject to earthquakes, the influence on Fuller by Technocracy Incorporated, the influence of Fuller on the television program Lost, and much more.

US$ 1.99.

Buckminster Fuller Bibliography – Kindle Edition

The Buckminster Fuller Bibliography is the most complete and accurate bibliography of “Bucky” Fuller to date. Excellent tool for tracking Fuller’s trajectory, and for finding rare titles in the field for your own collection. Authored by Trevor Blake of synchronofile.com, an independent resource on Fuller consulted around the world. Updated for this Kindle edition.  US$ 1.99.

The Lost Inventions of Buckminster Fuller (Part 3 of 3)

US Patent 2,466,013

[An expanded, corrected and illustrated update of this article appears in The Lost Inventions of Buckminster Fuller.]

The author of this essay is not a legal expert, and this essay is not legal advice. Consult a legal professional before acting on any of the information found in this essay.

Inventions, the Patented Works of R. Buckminster Fuller is a good introduction to Fuller’s many inventions. It is the basis for this overview of Fuller’s patented work. But Inventions does not include all of Fuller’s inventions, nor are all the inventions in Inventions by Fuller. Some inventions relevant to Fuller’s work are not included in Inventions. This essay will detail the lost inventions of Buckminster Fuller. Part one offers undocumented information about the illustrations in Inventions and lists the patents in Inventions that were awarded to Fuller and owned by Fuller. Part two is a collection of patents in Inventions that were awarded to Fuller but assigned to someone else, patents by Fuller and someone else, and patents not by Fuller but included in Inventions, the Patented Works of R. Buckminster Fuller. Part three are the lost inventions of Buckminster Fuller, works that were not patented or which do not appear in Inventions, and works that should have been in Inventions but were not.

Three inventions found in Inventions not patented by Fuller or by anyone else: the 4D House, the Dymaxion House and the Octa Spinner.

The 4D House has no patent. Inventions claims the patent was submitted in 1928, rejected, and Fuller did not re-submit out of ignorance that this was an option. Fuller does not state why he did not re-submit when he learned that this was an option. In Buckminster Fuller’s Universe, author Lloyd Sieden writes that Fuller offered the rights to the 4D House to the American Institute of Architects as a gift and that this gift was rejected. Inventions also claims the 4D House patent is rectilinear like a conventional house because his unnamed patent attorney advised him it would be more convincing to the patent examiners. The illustrations of the 4D House in Inventions are generally of a hexagonal building rather than the rectilinear building in the patent itself. The Dymaxion World of Buckminster Fuller calls the hexagonal 4D House the ‘clean-up model’ in illustration 40 and is seen in illustrations 40-41 and 49-64. Variations of the hexagonal 4D House are seen in Dymaxion World illustrations 2, 16-39 and 66.

Loretta Lorance’s book Becoming Bucky Fuller is the definitive account of Fuller’s work for Stockade Systems, his 4D House and the earliest models of the Dymaxion House.  Fuller’s Chronofile (the multi-ton collection of papers Fuller kept of his work) is now in the posession of Stanford University.  Lorance is among the first to have full access to the source material rather than relying solely on Fuller’s lectures.  According to the source documents, Fuller was not ignorant of the patent process because he did pursue it before, at the time and afterwards.  The patent for the 4D House was abandoned because of the 43 claims made in his application, all 43 could be found in earlier patents.  Attorney D. H. Sweet is blamed for the rectilinear 4D House in his patent application but Fuller’s own sketches to this point had been rectilinear.

The Dymaxion House / Wichita House has no patent. In Inventions Fuller directs the readers to Grunch of Giants as to why the Dymaxion House did not go into production. Grunch of Giants claims this was due to a lack of a distribution system, difficulties with building codes, resistance from electricians and plumbers unions and an unwillingness by banks to offer mortgages. But there is no published explanation why Fuller or someone else did not patent the Dymaxion House. The Wichita House appears in Dymaxion World illustrations 184-227. Much of Fuller Houses by Federico Neder concerns the Dymaxion House. The most important information on why the Dymaxion House never went into production can be found on pages 85-114 of Pawley’s Buckminster Fuller. Namely, this was due to Fuller’s “fanatical determination to retain complete personal control of the project and refine the house still further before putting it into production.” Although there were estimates of 250,000 Dymaxion Houses to be produced each year and 37,000 unsolicited orders before production began, the only Dymaxion Houses ever made were incomplete or miniature models. Of all the lost inventions of Buckminster Fuller, this is the one that could have done the most good in the world. The Dymaxion House was just as Fortune magazine described it: the industry that industry missed.

The Octa Spinner has no patent. In Inventions, Fuller writes: “I did not go through with the octet spinner patent after filing because the expense of patent work is very great, and I’m not in the manufacturing world, and I felt that it would not be worth carrying any further.” The Mind’s Eye of Buckminster Fuller by Donald W. Robertson, however, claims that Fuller’s initial application was rejected and that he only ended the process after carrying it further into a second application. The Stockade patents are clearly part of the manufacturing world, and much of his work on shelters could be considered the same.  The Chronofile contains a folder labeled “Original Patents file: Octa Spinner [application withdrawn - case no. 349.021] March, 1965.”

Two patents related to the Dymaxion Deployment Unit have a questionable history.  Fuller’s Design for a Prefabricated House (133,411) is a near-identical copy of the earlier 133,418. Design for a Prefabricated House (133,418) was filed by Victor C. Norquist and assigned to the Dymaxion Company on 11 August 1942.  Norquist had dozens of patents to his credit.  Many were assigned to Butler Manufacturing, which produced the Dymaxion Deployment Units.  Norquist’s patent reads in part: “Be it known that I, Victor C. Norquist [...] have invented a new, original and ornamental Design for a Prefabricated House of which the following is a specification… “  Not appearing in Inventions is Fuller’s patent 133,411, awarded on 11 August 1942, for Design for a Prefabricated House.  Fuller’s patent reads in part: “Be it known that I, Richard Buckminster Fuller [...] have invented a new, original and ornamental Design for a Prefabricated House of which the following is a specification… “  The text of 133,418 (Norquist) and 133,411 (Fuller) is nearly identical and the illustrations are nearly identical.  The date of each patent being assigned to the Dymaxion Company is identical.  Norquist filed on 24 May 1941 and Fuller filed a week later on 31 May 1941.  Norquist’s patent was awarded two years before either of Fuller’s Dymaxion Deployment Unit patents appearing in Inventions (2,343,764 and 2,351,419).

Dymaxion patent Fastening Means 2,466,013 is not mentioned in Fuller’s work at all.  Fastening Means (2,466,013) was filed by Bill Dean Eaton and assigned to the Dymaxion Company on 5 April 1949.  This invention is lost in the literature on Fuller and the Dymaxion Deployment Unit.  It is not mentioned in Inventions or Dymaxion World or any similar title, although it is intimately related to Fuller’s work.  James Monroe Hewitt’s patent 1,633,702 for Building Structure (28 June 1927) appears in both the Chronofile and Inventions.  Hewitt’s earlier patent 1,631,373 for Partition Walls (7 June 1927) appears in the Chronofile but not in Inventions.  Again, the earlier patent work of others is left out of Fuller’s book Inventions although it is intimately related to his own work.

More than a dozen inventions claimed by Fuller do not appear in Inventions but do appear in Dymaxion World or other titles.  These include variations of the 4D House and the geodesic dome, a number of storage systems and furniture items, and others.  Two artifacts that do not appear in Inventions will be detailed here.  These are the fog gun and Fuller’s possible role in the development of disc breaks.

The Fog Gun appears in Dymaxion World illustration 88-92 but not in InventionsDymaxion World, Buckminster Fuller’s Universe and other sources quote Fuller claiming that while in the Navy he was able to clean grease off his hands by the mist eternally surrounding ships at sea.  The fog gun was a means of directing atomized water under pressure for hygiene purposes.  The fog gun is mentioned in Fuller’s 1938 book Nine Chains to the MoonDymaxion World claims the fog gun was tested at the Institute of Design in Chicago in 1948 “and subsequently at Yale and other universities.”  In these tests a one-hour “massaging pressure bath” used one pint (.47 liters) of water.  In session 11 part 2 of Fuller’s 42-hour lecture “Everything I Know,” Fuller claims professional dermatologists were consulted in researching the fog gun.  Dymaxion World continues by saying “If fog gun bathing were done in front of a heat lamp, [all the effects of bathing] could be effected without the use of any bathroom.  Since there would be no run-off waters, tons of plumbing and enclosing walls could be eliminated, and bathing would become as much an ‘in-the-bedroom’ process as dressing.”  Buckminster Fuller’s Universe claims the test of the fog gun found it to be “a completely satisfactory system of cleansing, which, in fact, caused less damage to skin than ordinary soap and water.  Thus, another significant artifact was created and left until a time when future generations would require it.”  Has that generation arrived?

Fuller seems to have had some role in the development of disc brakes during his employment at Phelps Dodge in 1937.   Buckminster Fuller’s Universe describes Fuller’s invention as “a revolutionary solid bronze drum fitted with rubber insets to dissipate heat very rapidly, thereby solving [problems] which had plagued automobile and truck breaking systems for decades.  His new breaks also cut stopping times by nearly 50 percent and were the forerunner of the now-popular disc breaks.”  Grunch of Giants describes this invention as “carbon blocks-inserted, copper disc-brakes” that were “successfully demonstrated.”  BuckyWorks claims that Fuller had considered disc brakes for the second Dymaxion Car (circa 1934).  Are Fuller’s contribution to disc brakes (like his contribution to tension-supported tents) part of his most-seen and least-appreciated legacy?

The Chronofile is now housed at Stanford University.  It contains a number of works-in-progress that are not found in any of Fuller’s published work, either during his life or after.  These include “Energy Storage / Switching 1968-1969;” “Electronic Computer Energy Transformation 1969-1972;” “Metabolics Money 7/11/1973;” “Helicopter Rotor Sail 1976;” “De-Resonated Tensegrity Dome 1981;” and “Methods and Apparatus for Constructing Spheres 7/1/1982.”  Hopefully over time these lost inventions will see print in some form.

Inventions includes the Great Britain patent for the Dymaxion Car.  Otherwise, no international patents appear in Inventions.  But Fuller applied for and was sometimes awarded other international patents, as found in the Chronofile.  Canadian patents include the Geodesic Dome in 1955, the Octet Trus and the Plydome in 1957, the Paperboard Dome in 1959, Tensegrity in 1960, the Laminar Dome in 1961, Star Tensegrity in 1968.  Japanese patents include the Monohex Dome 1979 and in 1965 something called the “Octa-Hedronal Truss.”  The Hex-Pent Dome was patented in Australia, Canada, India, Israel and Italy in 1973.   Non-symetrical Tensegrity was patented in Canada, Great Britain, India, Italy and Japan in 1977.  Fuller sought intellectual property rights in Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, The Congo, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Finland, France, Greece, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordon, Kenya, Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Uruguay, Venezuela and West Germany.

Fuller had at least two reasons for seeking patent control over his inventions.  These were to prevent others from profiting from his inventions and to document what one person can achieve.  Donald W. Robertson wrote a book about his experience as Fuller’s patent lawyer titled The Mind’s Eye of Buckminster Fuller.  Robertson described why Fuller sought patents.  “While Fuller did not wish to seek patent profits by ‘selling’ efforts, he was adamant in seeking to forestall efforts of others to profit by making unauthorized use of his inventions.”  The Chronofile includes legal disputes over royalties with North American Aviation between 1958 and 1961 and with Ernest Okress between 1978 and 1979.  According to Siobhan Roberts’ book on Donald Coxeter, King of Infinite Space, Fuller’s patent on the Radome was defended in Canada by the United States Department of Defence.  Fuller hoped that the long-term and public nature of the US Patent Office would serve as a long-term and public record of his work.  Fuller wrote in Inventions: “The public record established by my patents [...] can serve as a critical appraisal of the historical relevance, practicality, and relative effectiveness of my half-century’s experimental commitment to discover what, if anything, an individual human being eschewing politics and money-making can do effectively on behalf of all humanity.”

R. Buckminster Fuller described himself as a “terrific package of experiences.”  The record of Fuller’s uncredited duplication of prior work suggests that he was at times a terrific package of other people’s experiences.

- Trevor Blake

Trevor Blake is the author of the Buckminster Fuller Bibliography, available at synchronofile.com

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009 4d, domes, dymaxion, geodesic, rbf, stockade, tensegrity, wichita

The Lost Inventions of Buckminster Fuller (Part 2 of 3)

US Patent 2,101,057

[An expanded, corrected and illustrated update of this article appears in The Lost Inventions of Buckminster Fuller.]

The author of this essay is not a legal expert, and this essay is not legal advice.  Consult a legal professional before acting on any of the information found in this essay.

Buckminster Fuller sought patents for his works to document in an enduring form what an individual could invent for the betterment of humanity.  A primary resource for Fuller’s patents is the book Inventions, the Patented Works of R. Buckminster FullerInventions serves as the framework for this three-part essay.  Comparing the description of Fuller’s work found in that book with this essay will be most instructive.  Otherwise uncredited page numbers are from this book.  Dates following patent numbers are the date of the patent being granted.  Supplementary material comes from The Dymaxion World of Buckminster Fuller and many other sources.  Part two of this essay will feature patents in Inventions that were not assigned to Fuller and patents not that were filed by Fuller.

Some of the patents in Inventions were not assigned to Fuller.  Some of these were also not filed by Fuller.

The Stockade Building Structure is called Building Structure in patent 1,633,702 (28 June 1927).  It is patented by James Monroe Hewitt and RBF and was assigned to Stockade Building System.  The Stockade Pneumatic Forming Process is called Mold for Building Blocks and Process of Molding in patent 1,634,900 (5 July 1927) and was assigned to Stockade Building System Inc.  Fuller was the President of Stockade Building System Inc., according to Buckminster Fuller’s Universe by Lloyd Sieden.  Becoming Bucky Fuller by Loretta Lorance offers the most complete account so far of Fuller’s complex relation to this company, its products, and how his own account of what happened differs from the historic record.  A companion photograph to the one on pages 2 and 3 of Inventions can be found on page 34 of Buckminster Fuller: An Autobiographical Monologue / Scenario by Fuller’s son-in-law Robert Snyder and illustration 9 from Dymaxion World.  Fuller writes in Inventions that this process was invented by his father-in-law, Monroe Hewlett.  This is confirmed by Hewlett’s earlier patents 1,604,097 (19 October 1926) and 1,450,724 (3 April 1923).  Neither of these earlier patents appear in Inventions, but Fuller’s patent 1,634,900 uses the same illustration as Hewlett’s patent 1,604,097.  Dymaxion World claims the Stockade System was “co-invented” by Fuller and Hewitt.  Fuller writes in Inventions that “while I did much of the inventing of technologies, the [Stockade Pneumatic Forming Process] was the only one I felt was worth patenting.”  All of these other inventions by Fuller relating to Hewlett’s invention appear to be lost.

The Dymaxion Car is called a Motor Vehicle in patent 2,101,057 (7 December 1937).  The patent was assigned to the Dymaxion Corporation.  Fuller was the Director and Chief Engineer of the Dymaxion Corporation.  The patent drawings most closely resemble Dymaxion Car #1, but two other models were produced and two more were conceived.  The photograph on pages 32-33 shows Dymaxion Car #1 outside the Dynamometer Building of the Locomobile plant in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Locomobile produced cars from 1899 to 1929.  This is the building that produced the three Dymaxion Cars.  The building was leased by W. Starling Burgess.  Burgess produced a yaht in the building while contributing to the creation of the Car.  The automobile in the upper left corner is a Franklin.  Artist Diego Rivera is seen between the car doors with his jacket in his arms.

The Morgan Motor Company had been producing three-wheeled vehicles in the USA since 1909.  The Burney, produced by Streamline Cars, used aviation design principles as early as 1927.  The Chrysler Airflow was a streamline, drag-reducing car of 1934, as was the Tatra T77 of 1935.

The earliest newspaper and magazine articles on the subject tend to favor W. Starling Burgess as the main force behind the Car.  The Dymaxion Car is first mentioned in print in the New York Times on 1 June 1933.  It is described as the creation of W. S. Burgess.  The last sentence of the article reads: “Buckminster Fuller, New York architect and engineer, is associated with Mr. Burgess in the project.”  By 22 July the New York Times comes to describe Fuller as the inventor of the Dymaxion Car and Burgess as the designer.  The Modern Mechanix of October 1933 lists Burgess and Fuller as the designers of the Car.  On 22 October the New York Times described the vehicle as the “streamlined, three-wheeled Gulf-Dymaxion Car, designed by W. Starling Burgess and Buckminster Fuller.”  At the time, Gulf Oil had purchased advertising space on the side of the Car.  Dymaxion World describes Burgess as “an assistant” in the project.

The Dymaxion Bathroom is called a Prefabricated Bathroom in patent 2,220,482 (5 November 1940).  The patent was assigned to the Phelps Dodge Corporation.  In 1936, Phelps Dodge wanted to expand their operations from mining copper to manufacturing copper products.  Fuller was hired by Phelps Dodge as a director of research and allowed to pursue any area of interest he chose.  Among his work for Phelps Dodge was the Dymaxion Bathroom.  Earlier patents for a prefabricated bathroom include Orville Smith’s  2,131,124 (30 October 1938), Samuel Samelow’s 2,087,121 (13 July 1937), Ralph Otwell’s 1,931,392 (17 October 1933), Owen Ayer’s 1,763,209 (10 June 1930) and others.  In Dymaxion World, Fuller claims that the use of red and blue handles to indicate hot and cold running water comes from the Dymaxion Bathroom.

The Dymaxion Deployment Unit (sheet) is called a Building Construction in patent 2,343,764 (7 March 1944).  The Dymaxion Deployment Unit (frame) is called a Building Construction in patent 2,351,419 (13 June 1944).  Both of these patents were assigned to Dymaxion Company Inc.  Fuller was the Director and Chief Engineer of the Dymaxion Corporation.  Dymaxion World illustration 167 identifies the photograph on pages 54-55 of Inventions as having been taken in Haynes Point Park, Washington DC in April 1941.  The photograph on page 61 of Inventions appears again with an exterior shot in Dymaxion World images 163 and 164.  The photograph on page 68 includes Walter Sanders (head of the Department of Architecture at the University of Michigan) and his wife.  The couple lived in the DDU for an unspecified period of time according to Dymaxion WorldDymaxion World emphasizes that Fuller modified the roof of an existing grain bin, giving it a more curved surface.  This modification appears to be the basis for Fuller’s claim to inventing the Dymaxion Deployment Unit.

Two of the patents that appear in Inventions / The Patented Works of R. Buckminster Fuller were never filed, owned or assigned to Fuller.

The Geodesic Hexa-Pent is called a Geodesic Pentagon and Hexagon Structure in patent 3,810,336 (14 May 1974).  The patent was granted to Shoji Sadao and assigned to Fuller & Sadao, Inc.  Shoji Sadao was a former student of Fullers.  Sadao was involved in the creation of the icosohedral Dymaxion Map (known as the Raleigh projection) and in the creation of the Expo ’67 dome in Montreal.  In Inventions, Fuller claims that the Hexa-Pent dome was developed by Sadao and jointly named by Sadao and Fuller.  The Hexa-Pent dome is preceded by patent 3,114,176 of Alvin E. Miller (17 December 1963).  The Hexa-Pent dome was featured in the May 1972 issue of Popular Science magazine.  The plans for the dome advertised on page 139 of this issue represents the only time Fuller himself sold dome instructions to the general public.

The Tensegrity Trus is called a Tensegrity Module Structure and Method of Interconnecting the Modules in patent 4,207,715 (17 June 1980).  The patent was granted to Christopher J. Kitrick.  Fuller wrote in Inventions: “I authorized Chris to take out a patent on his invention, which by agreement I paid for and on the basis it be assigned to me.”  Fuller is not listed as assignee in this patent.

Part one of this essay offers undocumented information about the illustrations in Inventions and lists the patents in Inventions that were owned by Fuller.  Part three of this essay will feature inventions by Fuller that were not patented or which do not appear in Inventions, the most lost of all of the lost inventions of Buckminster Fuller.

- Trevor Blake

Trevor Blake is the author of the Buckminster Fuller Bibliography, available at synchronofile.com

Friday, March 27th, 2009 domes, dymaxion, rbf, stockade