[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 Fuller. Inventions 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 World. Dymaxion 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
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