Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion: A Car as Unconventional as its Creator

Bill Wilson

The first time you hear the name “Buckminster Fuller” you probably picture a guy with inch-thick glasses who probably holds the world’s record for getting wedgies from the football team. At least that’s the character I imagined. In reality, however, the fellow who went by that moniker was one of the most brilliant visionaries ever to walk the earth, and the vehicle he built in the 1930s is a testament to his brilliantly oddball ideas.

Fuller was born in 1895 in Milton, MA. His innate genius was obvious from the moment he began to speak, and he eventually went off to Harvard. He was kicked out, however, because he liked to party (which is no sin these days, but in the 1910s it was regarded as a sign of moral degradation). He was eventually readmitted, but later expelled permanently for “irresponsibility and lack of interest.”

By the late 1940s Fuller, despite his lack of formal academic credentials, was teaching college classes in North Carolina when he came across a building design that caught his imagination: the geodesic dome. Fuller didn’t invent the idea of dome-shaped buildings, but he ironed out the kinks in them, eventually catching the interest of the government, which paid him to build domes for the military.

Dymaxion 2
Dymaxion 2

Industry got into the act, and Fuller’s talent for unconventional yet practical architectural designs earned him a position of respect in society. Fuller devoted the rest of his long life to making the world a better place. He served as president of the high-IQ society Mensa from 1978 to 1983, when he passed on at age 87.

Among Fuller’s better-known projects was a teardrop-shaped vehicle he built in the 1930s called the Dymaxion. 20 feet long and capable of ferrying 11 passengers about, it had three wheels and could turn in its own radius. It could travel up to 90 miles an hour, and, despite using a stock Ford engine, got 30 miles per gallon- good by even today’s standards. It was one of the exhibits at the 1933 World’s Fair. Two of the three of the original vehicles still exist. They’re a tribute to their maker’s brilliance and his vision, and, like him, are well worth learning about. With that in mind, here’s the link to a silent video showing the Dymaxion in action.

PHOTOS: See more of the Dymaxion

Photo Credit: The Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller