Full and Fuller

Buckminster Fuller was born on this day in 1895, and the first of his Dymaxion cars was produced on this day in 1933. Just as “car” does not adequately signify Fuller’s invention — he called it “the land-taxiing phase of a wingless, twin orientable jet stilts flying device” — so do none of the professions usually assigned to Fuller — architect, engineer, designer, futurist, humanist — seem accurate, or adequate. In the posthumously published Cosmography, Fuller says that he set out to escape categorization by design; below, his one-sentence description of the “experiment” he took on at age thirty-two:

The experiment sought to discover and realize what would happen if a healthy, moneyless, unknown individual with dependent wife and newborn child altogether discarded the assumption that an honorable human must earn the right of family and self to live (“earn a living”) and do so to the satisfaction of the socioeconomic power structure governing the political system in which he lived and, breaking away from all socially accepted concepts of the significance of human presence on planet Earth, undertook to discover what — if anything — a mature individual might be able to do effectively on behalf of all humanity that would be inherently impossible of accomplishment by any political system, nation, or private-enterprise corporation no matter how powerful or well-endowed.

The life experiment began in 1927, says Fuller, the year he made his first sketches for the Dymaxion car. Fuller so liked the concept that he followed up with a Dymaxion House, a Dymaxion Map, and a Dymaxion Chronofile, this a sixty-three-year scrapbook documenting his life at every fifteen-minute interval. Behind the portmanteau word — “dynamic” + “maximum” + “ion” — was the Bucky worldview for guiding Spaceship Earth, articulated below in a 1972 interview:

Something hit me very hard once, thinking what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary — the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing on the edge of the rudder called a trim-tab. It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving that little trim-tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around.… Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether. But if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go. So I said, “Call me Trimtab.”

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.