Biography / Administrative History
Scope and Content of Collection
Title: R. Buckminster Fuller papers
Dates: ca. 1920-1983
Collection number: M1090
Fuller, R. Buckminster (Richard Buckminster), 1895-1983
1200 linear ft.
Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.
Abstract: The papers of this 20th century polymath contain his personal archive the Dymaxion Chronofile, manuscripts, drawings and audio-visual
materials relating to his career as an architect, mathematician, inventor and social critic.
Languages represented in the collection:
Collection is open for research; materials must be requested at least 24 hours in advance of intended use.
Property rights reside with the repository. Literary rights reside with the creators of the documents or their heirs. To obtain
permission to publish or reproduce, please contact the Public Services Librarian of the Dept. of Special Collections.
R. Buckminster Fuller papers, M1090. Dept. of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, Calif.
The bulk of the collection is currently processed. Currently series 1, 2, 5, 8, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and
24 are fully processed and listed in detail.
Biography / Administrative History
Richard Buckminster Fuller was born July 12, 1895, in Milton, Mass. Fuller was descended from a long line of New England Nonconformists,
the most famous being his great-aunt, the Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller. Fuller's father died when he was a child, and
the young Bucky-as he was known throughout his life-grew up in genteel but straightened circumstances. Among his extended
family, at Milton Academy, and then at Harvard University, he was a bright but marginal figure. He was suspended from Harvard
after his freshman year, then expelled the next year; he never earned a degree. Instead, like his fellow New Englander Herman
Melville, a yard-arm-or in Fuller's case, a rescue boat-would be his Harvard and Yale. During World War I, he received a commission
in the U.S. Navy, and spent a year in officer candidate school at the Naval Academy. The blend of practical and theoretical
knowledge he found at Annapolis, and an officer culture that valued technical skill and hard work, contrasted strongly with
the Brahmin decadence he had encountered in Cambridge. Even decades later he still remarked on the difference.
In 1917 Fuller married Anne Hewlett, daughter of James Monroe Hewlett, a well-known architect and muralist. The marriage was
one of the defining features of Fuller's life: Anne proved astonishingly flexible during Bucky's difficult years in the 1920s
and 1930s, and was equally resourceful as a manager of his busy affairs after World War II. Too little attention has been
given to Anne, or to her role in sustaining Fuller's professional life and work. Their marriage ended after sixty-six years,
when they died just weeks short of Fuller's eighty-eighth birthday in July 1983.
After World War I Fuller and his father-in-law formed a construction company to build houses from a prefabricated fiber block
invented by Hewlett. They were forced out of their company in 1927 after financial difficulties; this failure, and the death
of his young daughter Alexandra, nearly pushed Fuller to suicide. Instead, he resolved to devote himself, essentially, to
changing the world: to developing a "design science" that would allow mankind to use its resources more efficiently. The first
product of this program was the Dymaxion House, a factory-produced, hexagonal house exploiting materials and manufacturing
principles from the aircraft industry. He next designed the Dymaxion car, a streamlined, three-wheeled vehicle that looked
more like a wingless DC-3 than any contemporary car; three prototypes were built, but investors deserted the project after
an accident killed a test driver. While neither project was a commercial success, they brought Fuller to public attention,
and established his reputation as an unconventional, stimulating thinker willing to challenge conventional professional standards
and routines. He continued working on prefabricated housing and automobile designs in the 1940s: immediately before and after
World War II, Fuller developed prototype houses to be manufactured from parts designed for grain silos (in the case of the
Dymaxion Dwelling Unit) and aircraft materials (in the case of the Wichita House), and designed an automobile for industrialist
In this same period, Fuller began researching trends in global industrialization and energy use. His first studies, conducted
for Fortune magazine, were published in 1938; they also contributed to his invention of the Dymaxion World Map, for which
he received a patent in 1942. This work later became the foundation for the World Game, which Fuller developed in the 1960s.
During World War II, Fuller served in the Bureau of Economic Warfare, an agency devoted to industrial espionage and acquisition
of critical industrial and military resources (both for Allied use, and to keep them from falling into Axis hands). Exactly
what Fuller did for the Bureau is a bit of a mystery: biographers describe him as having been head of the mechanical engineering
division, but no such group appears on the BEW's organization chart.
Fuller turned fifty a few weeks before V-J Day. However, his career would not wind down after the war: the level of his activity
would increase exponentially in the early years of the Cold War, and until his death Fuller would spend several months per
year on the road, as a visiting professor, keynote speaker, and participant in international conferences. The main reason
for his fame after World War II was his invention of the geodesic dome. Geodesic domes are constructed by assembling struts
of various mathematically-defined lengths into triangles; the resulting structures are exceptionally lightweight, strong,
and requires no interior supports. Fuller began experimenting with spherical structures in the late 1940s. The geodesic dome
first came to prominence in the early 1950s, when they were used as radar shelters in the Distant Early Warning line, and
were the subject of experiments by the Marine Corps. From 1956, domes were also used as exhibit pavilions in international
trade fairs: in this competitive environment, brightly-lit domes filled with consumer goods became a symbol of American ingenuity
and the strength of Cold War capitalism from Kabul (in 1956) to behind the Berlin Wall (Poznan 1957, Moscow 1959) to Montreal
The geodesic dome solidified Fuller's reputation as a visionary yet practical thinker, and provided the focus for his intellectual
and entrepreneurial activities. It gained Fuller invitations to leading architecture schools, and through much of the 1950s
he traveled a circuit between MIT, Yale, Cornell, Princeton, North Carolina State, and other schools. Much of his research
and development work was conducted during these appointments, as they provided him with resources-skilled and enthusiastic
students, building materials, connections with the profession and industry-otherwise unavailable to independent inventors.
Fuller also founded two companies, Synergetics and Geodesics, to develop domes for government and commercial use in the mid-1950s;
a few years later, he formed an architecture partnership with Shoji Sadao (they designed the 1967 Montreal Expo dome). He
also began a long collaboration with patent attorney Donald Robertson, who provided Fuller's enterprises with much-needed
legal and financial advising.
In the 1960s, domes were embraced by the counterculture, and thousand were built, especially in rural communes. For these
dome-builders, domes were symbols of an ecologically friendly, pacifist, and anti-corporate lifestyle (that is, the rejection
of precisely those values the dome embodied in the 1950s). Fuller likewise became an idol of the counterculture: the Whole
Earth Catalog, its editors declared, was inspired by him. While he continued to work on a few mammoth projects-a proposal
to construct a giant dome in East Saint Louis, a design for giant floating tetrahedron cities-Fuller's principal activities
after 1967 shifted away from invention and development. (But not entirely: his last two patents were for a novel suspended
bookcase design, and a new form of rowing scull.) Instead, he devoted increasing amounts of time to the World Game, a simulation
demonstrating how the world's resources could be distributed to create global plenty, and to the exposition of his philosophical
and mathematical ideas. This latter project yielded two major books, Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking
(1975), and Critical Path (1981).
Fuller's life spans a remarkable range of inventive activities: he was, at different times, an inventor, engineer, author,
teacher, mathematician, futurist, speaker, and cartographer. Probably no other 20th-century figure was Charles Eliot Professor
of Poetry at Harvard University (1962), recipient of the Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and a candidate
for the Nobel Peace Prize (1970). By any standard his was a remarkable life; and it was documented to a remarkable standard.
Fuller began collecting his personal papers, and newspaper and magazine clippings about his work, in the 1920s; his "Chronofile,"
as he called it, grew to include material about his inventive activities, the business and legal structures that supported
his work, correspondence with countless admirers, and family letters. (Letters from Anne were carefully re-filed in their
original envelopes.) His archive expanded after World War II to include drawings, blueprints, photographs, slides, models,
and eventually audio and video recordings of his talks. With 1,300 linear feet of paper, 2,000 hours of audio and video (imagine
yourself recorded at work, 40 hours a week, for a full year; that's 2,000 hours), and thousands of other physical and visual
artifacts, Fuller's life is perhaps the most thoroughly documented of any private citizen. Tying all these pieces together
are two other sets of material: the Chronofile Index, which represents Fuller's organization of the collection; and his agenda,
which details his travels, professional activities, speaking engagements, meetings-even his dinner guests and names of his
hosts while traveling-from the 1930s to his death.
Together, these sources make it possible to reconstruct Fuller's activities, communication, and interests on a day-by-day
basis, and to uncover the interconnections between Fuller's public, private and professional lives and the evolution of his
thought. This variety of this collection is not to be measured simply in terms of its material diversity: different portions
of it cover different parts of his life and work. The Chronofile is mainly a record of Fuller's public and entrepreneurial
life; the audio tapes record Fuller's teaching, early drafts of manuscripts, and relationship with his public; the film collection
includes raw footage of military tests of the geodesic dome; the blueprints and drawings cover Fuller's architectural and
cartographic activities. Further, Fuller's circle of friends and acquaintances was remarkably rich: he drew from Greenwich
Village bohemians in the 1920s, Black Mountain College colleagues in the late 1940s, Cold Warriors in the 1950s, countercultural
thinkers in the 1960s and 1970s. His correspondents included Albert Einstein, Romany Marie, Isamu Noguchi, Martha Graham,
Clare Booth Luce, Thornton Wilder, Ruth Asawa, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, the Black Mountain poets and artists, and countless
others from all walks of life. The value of the Papers thus extends well beyond the already considerable importance of revealing
the context and content of Fuller's own achievements; beyond that, it is a repository of information about the cultural, intellectual,
environmental, and material history of the United States throughout nearly the whole of the 20th century. Finally, it is worth
nothing that this collection was intended by Fuller to be used as a research tool: he saw his life as a grand experiment,
the results of which had to be recorded. Fuller meant for the Chronofile to be used to understand his life and age.
Scope and Content of Collection
The entire collection contains correspondence, manuscripts, blueprints, photographs, videotapes, etc.
The collection is arranged in 25 series:
1: Family History
2: Dymaxion Chronofile
4: Dymaxion Index
6: Awards and Honors
9: Reprints of Writings by Fuller
11: Office Files
12: R. Buckminster Fuller Photographic Exhibit
13: Photographs (LECO Index)
14: Non-LECO Photographs
16: Blueprints and Drawings
17: Audio Visual
18: Project Files
20: Business Files
21: Shoji Sadao Geodesics Files
22: Legal Files
23: Materials Removed for Use in the film
25: Materials Removed for Use in the Museum fur Angewandte Kunst's exhibit "Your Private Sky" 2002
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in
the library's online public access catalog.
Everson, William, 1912-
Noguchi, Isamu, 1904-
Architecture, Modern--20th century--United States