Buckminster Fuller Documented His Life Every 15 Minutes, from 1920 Until 1983

If you’ve heard of Buck­min­ster Fuller, you’ve almost cer­tain­ly heard the word “Dymax­ion.” Despite its strong pre-Space Age redo­lence, the term has some­how remained com­pelling into the 21st cen­tu­ry. But what does it mean? When Fuller, a self-described “com­pre­hen­sive, antic­i­pa­to­ry design sci­en­tist,” first invent­ed a house meant prac­ti­cal­ly to rein­vent domes­tic liv­ing, Chicago’s Mar­shall Field and Com­pa­ny depart­ment store put a mod­el on dis­play. The com­pa­ny “want­ed a catchy label, so it hired a con­sul­tant, who fash­ioned ‘dymax­ion’ out of bits of ‘dynam­ic,’ ‘max­i­mum,’ and ‘ion,’ ” writes The New York­er’s Eliz­a­beth Kol­bert in a piece on Fuller’s lega­cy. “Fuller was so tak­en with the word, which had no known mean­ing, that he adopt­ed it as a sort of brand name.” After the Dymax­ion House came the Dymax­ion Vehi­cle, the Dymax­ion Map, and even the two-hour-a-day Dymax­ion Sleep Plan.

“As a child, Fuller had assem­bled scrap­books of let­ters and news­pa­per arti­cles on sub­jects that inter­est­ed him,” Kol­bert writes. “When, lat­er, he decid­ed to keep a more sys­tem­at­ic record of his life, includ­ing every­thing from his cor­re­spon­dence to his dry-clean­ing bills, it became the Dymax­ion Chronofile.” The Dymax­ion Chronofile now resides in the R. Buck­min­ster Fuller Col­lec­tion at Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty, a place that has mer­it­ed the atten­tion of no less a guide to the fas­ci­nat­ing cor­ners of the world than Atlas Obscu­ra.

“The files go back to when he was four-years-old, but he only seri­ous­ly start­ed the archive in 1917,” writes that site’s Alli­son C. Meier. “From then until his death in 1983 he col­lect­ed every­thing from each day, with ingo­ing and out­go­ing cor­re­spon­dence, news­pa­per clip­pings, draw­ings, blue­prints, mod­els, and even the mun­dane ephemera like dry clean­ing bills.” Fuller added to the Dymax­ion Chronofile not just every day but, from the year 1920 until his death in 1983, every fif­teen min­utes.

In 1962 Fuller described the Dymax­ion Chronofile as what would hap­pen “if some­body kept a very accu­rate record of a human being, going through the era from the Gay ’90s, from a very dif­fer­ent kind of world through the turn of the cen­tu­ry — as far into the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry as you might live.” Using him­self as the case sub­ject for the project (as he did for many projects, which led him to nick­name him­self “Guinea Pig B”) meant that “I could not be judge of what was valid to put in or not. I must put every­thing in, so I start­ed a very rig­or­ous record.” Open Cul­ture’s own Ted Mills has writ­ten else­where about the rig­ors of stor­ing and main­tain­ing that record in archive form over the decades since Fuller’s death, and now, as with so much Fuller did, the Dymax­ion Chronofile stands as both a com­pelling odd­i­ty and proof of real, if askew, pre­science. After all, how many of us have tak­en to doc­u­ment­ing our own lives online with near­ly equal inten­si­ty — and how many of us do it even more often than every fif­teen min­utes?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Buck­min­ster Fuller’s Dymax­ion Sleep Plan: He Slept Two Hours a Day for Two Years & Felt “Vig­or­ous” and “Alert”

Buck­min­ster Fuller’s Map of the World: The Inno­va­tion that Rev­o­lu­tion­ized Map Design (1943)

Watch the Mak­ing of the Dymax­ion Globe: A 3‑D Ren­der­ing of Buck­min­ster Fuller’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Map

A Har­row­ing Test Dri­ve of Buck­min­ster Fuller’s 1933 Dymax­ion Car: Art That Is Scary to Ride

Bet­ter Liv­ing Through Buck­min­ster Fuller’s Utopi­an Designs: Revis­it the Dymax­ion Car, House, and Map

Every­thing I Know: 42 Hours of Buck­min­ster Fuller’s Vision­ary Lec­tures Free Online (1975)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Michel Beauchamp says:

    Let’s not for­get Mr. Fuller’s par­tic­i­pa­tion to the inter­na­tion­al exhi­bi­tion of Expo67, in Mon­tréal that year… The USA pavil­ion was one of his great­est achieve­ments.

  • Kirby Urner says:

    As Fuller archivist Trevor Blake points out, Fuller was ahead of his time in keep­ing a chronofile (like a Face­book pro­file); doing a paleo diet (spinach and steak); jog­ging (the term was not yet invent­ed); and of course being an ear­ly mem­ber of the “jet set” (42 times around the world? — some­thing like that). He not only antic­i­pat­ed the future, he lived it.

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