r. bUCKMINSTER fULLER+bETTY kENNEDY tORONTO rADIO iNTERVIEW 1966
Betty Kennedy: What kind of student were you?
R. Buckminster Fuller: As far as studies go, I did very well.
I had honours in all the science subjects: mathematics, physics.
Betty Kennedy: Did you enjoy formal studies?
R. Buckminster Fuller: I sometimes enjoyed it, sometimes I didn't. I think it depended whether there were other
things that seemed more interesting. It's a question really of what is the most interesting.
But certainly I was never bored with the studies. Simply I felt myself... I was always very busy.
Betty Kennedy: I wonder what your first jobs, first occupations were?
R. Buckminster Fuller: You mean employed?
Betty Kennedy: When you left school...
R. Buckminster Fuller: Very well. I came from Harvard to Sherbrooke
Quebec where I worked as an assistant to
a cotton mill fitter. These are men who are installing new machinery in the cotton mill,
and I learned there in Sherbrooke to put up one of each type of cotton mill machine and
then after the mill was all installed I stayed on and got the mill running. It was a
very interesting experience to actually organize something as big as a cotton mill
and get it going. and then I went back to Harvard again.
Betty Kennedy: Did you graduate from Harvard Mr. Fuller?
R. Buckminster Fuller: No. I went out of Harvard twice. I wasn't
expelled in the sense that they found me
inadequate. I cut classes and forced them to drop me out: I did get good grades.
I did that twice and they were about to take me back a third time and I went
into the war. My class, it was harvard 1917, and of my class of 700 only 45
were there for graduation, everybody else was off in the war. So the war was
a very disrupting factor so my ins and outs and my feelings about things were
really all tied up with opinion and emotion so that in spite of seeming
retrospectively to be very irregular, I was not thought really too irregular,
and my class still thinks well of me and I'm considered a member in good
standing of the class of 1917.
Betty Kennedy: I'm sure that they're only too happy
to claim you! I wondered if perhaps some of
this had been a kind of impatience with formal studies because sometimes people
don't find the regime of a university or an institution best suited to their
forms of learning and I wondered if this was the case for you?
R. Buckminster Fuller: When you first asked me about
my studies I realized something that has been
really true in my life that I would not have thought of unless you and I
hadn't also been talking about my schedule, and that is: I really have
always been very, very busy. Life has always been fascinating and there
was no question of studies not being attractive simply there were times
when something very much more attractive -- the first automobile in
history comes up the driveway -- even though I like mathematics that
was much more important than mathematics for the moment. It's a matter
of priority for all these years. There was really never a negative,
except when one of my leavings from Harvard related to the fact that
I'd fallen in love and the young lady I fell in love with fell in love
with someone else and that hurt very much, and I also broke my knee and
I had hoped to be quarterback on the football team so the combination
of the number things and my being preoccupied with other interests in
life and... I just went away and deliberately cut my classes.
Betty Kennedy: Did you eventually marry that first lady or was there
someone else who claimed your heart at a later date?
R. Buckminster Fuller: There were several of that kind.
I don't think I was necessarily a very attractive
character but at any rate finally my wife Anne Hewlett of Long Island decided that
I was somehow acceptable and we'll have our 50th wedding anniversary this year.
Betty Kennedy: I think you're too modest when
you say somehow you were "acceptable".
R. Buckminster Fuller: I had an older sister, three years
older. She used to like to rub in the fact that
men were very unattractive. She seemed to be very attracted to men herself but by
and large she wanted me to understand that I was not a very attractive character
and I never assumed myself to be anything but rather something very awkward and
unacceptable, so that my relationship with girls was anything but confident.
Betty Kennedy: Mr. Fuller I wouldn't dare
or wouldn't presume to give you advice on many things
but in this area I think i could: that a boy shouldn't depend on his sister's
opinion of him I don't think (laugh)...
R. Buckminster Fuller: It took me a number of years to learn
that that was really not reliable (laughs).
Betty Kennedy: In talking to you I'm intrigued
and fascinated by your tremendous zest for living.
There are very few people who you sit down and talk with and sit beside and look
over a schedule of events and things that run into the next year; train schedules
and plane schedule and distant places. I'm looking at a sheet here and we look at
Boston, London, Beirut. you go all over the world. You obviously enjoy life and
you're aware and interested in everything about it, and yet I understand there
was a time in your life when you considered suicide. You don't sound like the
kind of person who would ever have that kind of thought cross their mind.
R. Buckminster Fuller: Well I'll tell you how that
worked up in a sense. I had not only my older sister
who I loved very much: I love all my family. But all my family, particularly
because, I think, my father died when I was quite young, uncles and aunts
all felt they ought to do something for this young man so I was always
receiving counsel, and the counsel was always that I must listen to this
man, he knew what it was all about, and I must listen to this one... and I
was always told "never mind your own goofy ideas. really listen to this
man who knows what it's about!". so I was taught to not pay any attention
to what I thought but to listen to what other men thought. So I really was
accommodating and I picked up a great many of other people's credos and
tried to live by these codes rather than by what I thought. It was like
learning a game and so I'd learn the games. Eventually there was really
a collision between these different codes that I was trying to adopt and
it really brought great pain.
We had our first daughter born just at the
end of World War One. She caught flu then spinal meningitis and infantile
paralysis. Her mind and brain were not hurt at all. She couldn't get out
of bed. She burned very brightly in her mind but physically went through
all those things. And because we loved her fantastically -- we were
completely preoccupied with her -- when she died it was really a very great
shock. For the next five years I worked extraordinarily hard. I was getting
five different factories going, I got up 240 buildings -- they were small
buildings -- in the eastern half of the United States. My wife who is
oldest of ten children -- her mother died at the same time our child died
and another one of her brothers and so she really acted as the mother for
this family. So while I traveled around getting these factories going and
so forth she looked after the family: we both had something intense. At that
time I was also accepting other codes and so forth, and there was the code
of good fellowship: this is where a man behaves by (unintelligible word)
drinking and, and more or less drowning my own emotions. And five years
after that in 1927 my first, my second daughter was born. There was a
point when my second daughter was born and my wife then gave up looking
after her family and we came together really as a family again, that I
began to review all the things that had brought about this head-on
collision of codes, having been ahead of things and worked very hard
were suddenly pushed out by other by others --and (I) questioned whether
my sister was right, that I really was a mess, that I ought to get people
like myself out of the way --or whether the really very large amounts of
experience that I had were something that should be turned to general
account. It could be a valuable resource to have had so many because I
seem to have had more types of experiences ...and I was so intensely
interested in all of them. Certainly it involved my getting to know a
whole lot of people so I knew all the way from a Capone to a JP Morgan
right across the tracks. The question of whether I could turn all those
kinds of things to account ...((3 words including the word "codes"))...
without seeming to too many people to be discredible because I didn't play their
side or the other --that was when the pain became really very great.
Betty Kennedy: Did part of this feeling
that you were at a period of crisis, did part of this
arise out of financial things, were financial worries or lack of financial
success part of this picture of not feeling that you were measuring up?
R. Buckminster Fuller: That was very much it. The fact is
I never was really interested in being a financial
success and part of this code was you're supposed to be a financial success. So that I
didn't pay enough attention to this being a financial success, and I let myself get
cornered and penniless right at the moment of this new child. I found myself really
that way. Was I going to go back to her family and my family -- neither of them were
rich but they were comfortable enough-- also they could have taken care of us for the
moment. We were in Chicago. Do I go back and say "I'm a failure: you take my wife,
my child" or do I battle it out in the slums here with them, meaning that they'd have
to go through greater hardship to carry on with me? This is kind of crippling actually.
Betty Kennedy: Mr. Fuller at that time, at that moment of decision, and I understand it really was a moment
of decision, that you did stand overlooking Lake Michigan deciding whether you'd hop in or
not, when you talk about having listened to so many other people who had recipes and nice
formulas for living that you were supposed to adopt, did you come out of that with a
distrust of words because I read that you practically took a vow of silence and for
a long time after that just felt you wouldn't talk about anything until you were sure
what you --Bucky Fuller-- thought and felt about something.
R. Buckminster Fuller: That was one of the decisions.
The other was that words were fantastically superb tools. At the
you see I was a regular mechanic and a sailor and I really realized what a tool is. And I learned
how people use tools in the wrong way. I've seen an ignorant person use the end of a screwdriver
for a hammer, whatever it might be. I said: I think these superb tools that we've inherited and
learned to use, we've learned when we use this certain tool, people jump. A lot of people are
using them to just make people jump without really knowing what they're doing. So I said: I
don't think people really know what to do with these wonderful inherited tools --particularly
myself-- I've learned to use them, really have quite a vocabulary, and I get people who say
things and going on with other peoples' codes instead of doing my own thinking, and I'm able
to get all kinds of situations organized that I really didn't believe in and so forth. So I
said: I must really from this point on just stop talking 'til I learn what the meaning of
meaning is -- what do I think and which words do I really wish to use?
Betty Kennedy: Mr. Fuller a great many things
matter to you. You seem to look at people, ideas and things
with a tremendous awareness on all counts. I wonder if you had to list the first kind of
creative thought -- where you began in terms of invention, in terms of design. Were you
to start at the beginning how would you list the sequence?
R. Buckminster Fuller: It goes very far back and it's very
fundamental. When there are enormous and very great
problems -- crisis -- I always try to look around and organize things. The reality
around me, I felt, was something I must turn to. I mustn't say: how do I persuade
somebody that things should be thought of in other ways? I would only try to get
together advice that made it so clear that there was no question about it so I
tended then to try to organize the environment to persuade the person because
that would be the really powerful argument. In doing so I often became an inventor
because I'd show that this could be used in such a way and they'd overlooked the
fact that it could be used in such a way. Do you understand what I'm saying?
Betty Kennedy: Yes because this goes right to the
very basic concept of any kind of an idea. That
if you did a certain thing this would be the right way to do it but if you provide
that it becomes so obvious.
R. Buckminster Fuller: People had never thought of
that alternative, and because they hadn't thought of that
alternative I was in trouble with them. When I was in a crisis --they didn't realize
there were alternate routes and ways of thinking about things-- I think that i was
fairly inventive when I was up against these cul de sacs.
Betty Kennedy: When did you first come up with
the new thought that would allow you to build the
dome-like structures that we're seeing. Most Canadians will certainly see
the American pavilion and this will bring you to life for them if they don't
already know of your work. When did this start and why and how?
R. Buckminster Fuller: I can remember my school
I went to, Milton Academy, they as with any school
wanted young people to learn to present their ideas to the public. The older
men (students) had to give fairly long talks to the whole school and I the
lower classes we were asked to write themes and read them. I remember in my
sixth class which would have had to have been 1907 writing a piece... no it
was earlier than that, it was before the period getting to the North Pole.
Getting to the North Pole, and of course the South Pole, was one of those
impossible things just as flying was an impossible thing. I was nine years
old when the airplane was invented and up to that time I know I was working
very hard on how to make an airplane. I was sure, as many young people thought:
yes we could fly. The family said: it's impossible, we think you're very cute,
nice of you to be playing with those things but this will never work. It was
then the accomplishment of the flight that encouraged young people like myself,
saying: yes things I see that I was told couldn't be done can be done. I wrote a
theme which I read to the school about how to get to the North Pole. But in doing
it I did, I don't know, a Jules Verne kind of an idea that I tried to make very
amusing. I did have my school having great laughter as I read about all this. I
did completely surprising things: in each movement I seemed to be frustrated I
invented something out of things they never expected. I think that was fairly
clear disclosure of my recourse to invention.
The first actual invention that
I can remember making -- and I really didn't do many inventions around the
house -- but it was one for propelling a boat because in our summer world we
lived on an island in Ponopscott Bay in Maine, where we were eleven miles
off the mainland. The mail came to another island two miles away from our
island so I had to row each day two miles over for that mail, and back so
four miles round trip in a fairly heavy fisherman's pulling boat. There
are many days when there are fogs, and there's a high tide that runs in
there. We have almost fifteen feet of tide, so there are strong currents
and you had to really plan your course so you wouldn't be swept in the
wrong direction. So going through fogs and currents -- and we have a lots
of fog there-- I found it really annoying that I had to -- the best way to
row when you got the most out of yourself was pulling so that your back was
in the direction you were going. So to keep on turning around and checking...
you had your compass between your feet so you dealt with the compass alright
but you wanted to be sure you were not going to run into some rock. Every
time there was a chance you wanted to survey to see if the fog was lifting
and you were going the right way. So I wanted to turn around. The fisherman
had a way of rowing themselves which gave them some advantage here. They
stood, straddled out of the seat and there was a method of rowing and it's
very nice just going from lobster pot buoy to lobster pot buoy but it really
is not the fastest way of getting around. So I invented a pole that I had going
through an oarlock in the stern -- there was else something we call sculling
but that's a relatively very slow outward motion that you use. I didn't want
just to go sculling. I wanted to really push with no slip at all. So I made
in effect on the end of my pole an umbrella, a very strong kind of an umbrella,
that as I pulled it it would fold up and pull through the water very easily,
and as I started to push the umbrella opened to such a large degree that it
had such inertia that it had practically no slip at all. It was as if I was
pushing against a rock. And with this device I could face forward and be
pushing and it went along very very well. I made that burden a little
better. It was really a fairly clean invention. It did get me around and
no other fisherman, nobody else I've ever known has ever used such a device.
Betty Kennedy: And yet the way you describe it
I know exactly what you did with it and it would work beautifully.
R. Buckminster Fuller: I had been looking at the jellyfish.
They contract themselves very beautifully and as
they do they propel, they shoot the water out, really the beginning of the jet. I saw
that as a very nice shape so I tried to make that in ways with leather and wood where
the hinging was done by the leather and wouldn't wear out too rapidly, because I gave
it a good hard use.
Betty Kennedy: There was a long time in your
lifetime before your international acclaim and success,
and all of the wonderful things that can go with that, came around to you -- in 1948
or 50 at the time of, your creation of the geodesic dome. You've mentioned that money
wasn't a particular objective with you. I wonder how you look on the kind of fruits of
success that have come your way. What do they mean to you?
R. Buckminster Fuller: It really is true that money
was not the criteria at all. I am enough of a mechanic to
realize how people deal in money, therefore I know I have to deal in money and play
the game their way, though I really see wealth in quite a different way. One of the
ways that I got into trouble in the beginning was with a Robin Hood kind of idea that
I was looking out for other people. I was anything but immoral. I was really quite
morally and idealistically involved in trying to do things and I'm sure that 90% of
the young people who get into trouble really employ the same way of doing something
to somebody else, and they break the rules: they feel they can take the law into
their own hands. But at any rate along with my feeling about words being beautiful
tools and I must stop using them 'til I really realize how strong and powerful they
are, and just use a few of them and get the right results.
Along with that decision
I also say: I see that everybody around me says: "first thing you have to do is
learn how to earn a living". So that everybody that's going to school is doing
it with the idea of earning a living and hoping that they'll earn it with something
that's pleasant. But number one was: you have to earn a living. You have to prove
your right to live. I said in 1927: I don't think that is really the correct criteria;
I think that man is born with extraordinary capabilities and the first thing --
my real function is to prove how very good the invention of man is. I don't think
that I'm so hot but I think men have been misusing their tools and I think I'm a
complex tool which could be used in a very much better way. I must never find fault
with the other fellow: I must find out how to make myself work. I wasn't doing the
things I was doing as an ambition to try and make me important; it never was
important to me whether I was being recognized or not.
But I had also, if you'll
go back in my record, found that I had grown fairly high in the navy and I'd been
captain of several ships and I was a regular officer in the line of the United
States navy. I knew that as captain of my ship, when we were at sea I'd be
looking my ship over getting ready for the next docking -- you just don't wait
'til your ship is matched up before you get things in good order again. So I was
always having to anticipate the next docking out time; and things -- had to
requisition well ahead so they'd be waiting when we came in. I knew that I
looked at my boat in a different way from which the crew looked it over:
they were figuring on when they got home, how do they get back to their family.
They were giving themselves very completely alright to their job but they weren't
having to think how to keep that ship absolutely reliable and able to hold station.
I tended to be a good housekeeper in this way; an anticipatory house keeper. I think
this will give you a little idea of how I intended to look at things. I said: I'm no
more important than any other man but there are tasks I see that I have to do that
the other fellow doesn't have to do. So then I began to see things that needed to be
done by the world to help the world be successful and that was always the criteria.
And then of course I realized that there was capital formation that would give great
advantage apparently to people who went into various enterprises and I tried to show
them some of the ways in which they could make more monies but they always thought
of me really as a promoter when I talked that way so I thought: I mustn't even do
that. There were several times in my life when I made the mistake of letting people
become so enthusiastic about what I saw needed to be done that they thought about
it, not in the terms of my thinking that these are things that society needs, but
they thought of it in terms of enterprise: this is a good way to make a quick profit.
Then they found in backing me that I was looking for the long full gains to society,
not how to make a quick profit, they would then become disillusioned in me, and we
would have hard feelings in the difference in our viewpoints and our drives. Eventually
I thought: well I mustn't allow anybody even to back me on this.
Then I find out
how things do form in natural ways: what you might call natural gestation. There's
no instant babies; you undertake so many months. I saw the gestation rates for all
the different arts, and that electronics only takes two years between invention
and industrial high use; and automobile inventions may take ten years, and I
found in railroading it took about 18 years between invention and use; and I found
in housing there was almost a 45 year lag -- this was a fantastically great lag.
it's because probably man has the least perspective ((on this)): he lives inside
it; he can't see it. He can see the automobile moving; see what happens when it
hits the stone, but he doesn't see himself ... he's just too close his eyes don't
see it. So I found there's correlation between perspective and lag and things like
that. These are things that I had to deal with which are realistic and they don't
allow you to have emotions about: "I think this man is wrong"; they don't
allow you opinions. You must really go on measurement and find out what works and
what doesn't work.
Betty Kennedy: I'm interested in when you talk
about opinions and whether there's any validity
to them or not. There was a long period in your own life when other people's
opinions of you wouldn't have been tremendously favourable because they wouldn't
be seeing the same possibilities that you see. now today -- because so many of
your ideas have proven out; because there are building and structures that are
revolutionary looking that are already up and are built; and they talk of you as
the technological poet and they heap on you all kinds of extraordinary names and
titles and so on. Is opinion still a matter of: "never mind" to you;
is it unimportant. Or does it matter to you that today people's opinion of you
has changed considerably?
R. Buckminster Fuller: It doesn't matter at all
in personal emotion. I'm already impervious to it.
I don't pay any attention to what people are thinking that way. I never pay
attention to what people say. When they see one of my inventions I often hear
people say: "people won't like that" or "women won't like that".
I pay no attention to those words at all. It does mean something to me that at
a certain point I knew that I had no credit, and in order to be able to accomplish
so and so for man that I would need to have various tools and resources, therefore
it was a various precarious matter learning how to get those tools and resources in
order to be able to make an experiment which would prove that I was right. Because
I always came back to "did the labour work?" --not a question of opinion.
That's the way I always proved my point. Once I had found out that the inventions
I made actually worked, then I didn't care whether people liked it or not: I knew
that they would need them. I saw then that I could not allow people to back me in
order to make a profit. How else to carry on? Well there's a very simple way: I
said in due course "I've invented a pull motor" ((for example)). I
wasn't the inventor of the pull motor, but I said: you don't go from door to door
trying to sell pull motors. People say "we don't need a pull motor in our family
our lungs are great". But I knew every once in a while there was some great
trouble and some got their lungs full of gasses and things and you need that pull
motor terribly: what you call emergence by emergency. What I developed, if I really
was right, those things would be needed and that is exactly why I've come now into
high use. Because those tools I developed --I would reduce them to practices, go out,
and I'd just leave them there. People would ask me what they are, and that was sort of
news: "this man has an invention over here"; but I didn't go off trying to sell
it. And lots of people said "this wasn't a success because you didn't push it"
and so forth. I never looked at it that way. I knew that if it was right it would be needed
in due course.
And so now my credit is high. Because of this I then have a higher capability
than I had yesterday because if I see things that need to be done, I now find there are
really rather large numbers of human beings who will see it right away and will join with
me, and therefore I can get things done and therefore I have more responsibility than I had
yesterday. I always knew here's this extraordinary invention 'human beings', and a human
being can do these things. I was interested in finding out not what the opinions of men
who said "men could not do so and so" or "if you just do this kind of
thinking or praying some magic will occur". I'm convinced that man has very much
higher capability than he knows and that in as much as I myself find life continually
more interesting and full of joy, that other human beings may get out from under all
the other things that they've been told about "this isn't fun" or "this
is work", "you have to earn a living"; there is a kind of a language
that is employed by society. I found lots of young kids saying they're lazy or they're
not interested or life is no good, simply because they've been introduced to life in the
Betty Kennedy: Do you consider yourself a religious man
in the traditional sense that most people would use that phrase?
R. Buckminster Fuller: Not at all. I try to understand those words as tools. I relate the word religion to rules
or reglia and I think that this means dogma. Which makes what I was taught in a religious
way a matter of having been told that you must believe something for which there is no
experimental proof, but that if you do so and so you'll get such and such results. In
other words there were formulas and you were working blindly all the time --it was exactly
the opposite of what I felt was reliable. It was my doing this blind acceptance of rules
that made it possible for me to take on various codes and not allow myself to do my own
thinking. I couldn't even see that these two things were in contradiction. So I'm not that
kind of religious man at all.
In 1930 Einstein wrote a very extraordinarily beautiful piece in the New York Sunday
Times Magazine. it was titled --that title became very well known-- it was titled
'The Cosmic Religious Sense'. I think he misused the word religion as I use it
but I knew what he meant.
r. buckminster fuller interview part 2 (not yet online, sorry)
pavilion architecture resource centre