U.S. Navy, WWI 1917-1918 R. Buckminster Fuller Inventor, Designer, Architect, Theorist (1895-1983)
Born, Richard Buckminster Fuller, Jr., in Massachusetts in 1895 to a wealthy and patrician New England family, Fuller horrified his parents by failing to graduate from Harvard University, as Fuller boys had done for over a century. In 1916 he enlisted in the US Army later transfered to the Naval Reserve. At the age of 22 in 1917, he married his sweetheart Anne Helwett and joined the US Navy for wartime service. Fuller had loved boats ever since childhood visits to his grandmother’s island-farm off the coat of Maine. He later claimed that he garnered all his technical expertise to the navy. His service as a naval communications officer and gunboat commander was a determining influence on his life and work. Fuller believed that the most significant developments in scientific knowledge were a direct result of the experience of sea travel and the desire to reach new shores. The seafarer had to develop solutions to a different set of challenges than the stay-at-home “landlubber”: the ability to harness the wind, to navigate by the stars and continuously to improve the ability of ships and their navigational instruments to cope with what Fuller described as the “Fluid Geography” of the oceans.
After leaving the navy in 1919, Fuller co-founded the Stockade Building Company to produce lightweight building materials. The knowledge he acquired there was to prove invaluable to his later experiments with design and architecture. Disaster struck in 1927 when Fuller lost his job at Stockade. At the age of 32 he found himself on the shore of Lake Michigan wondering whether to end his life there. Fuller took a decision to devote his life to others by embarking on “an experiment to discover what the little, penniless, unknown individual might be able to do effectively on behalf of all humanity”.
Fuller's short military career began in 1916, (two years after the beginning of World War I), when he entered the U.S. military training camp in Plattsburg, NY, as a corporal. A year later he joined the U.S. Naval Reserve, and married Anne Hewlett on his birthday. That same year, he was assigned to a short special course at the Annapolis Naval Academy in Maryland. Their first daughter, Alexandra was born in 1918. During that year he was temporarily assigned to the USS George Washington, then to another special course at Annapolis. Promoted to LTjg USN, he was assigned to troop transport duty as a personal aide to Admiral Albert Gleaves. He also saw service on the USS Great Northern and USS Seattle.
From 1917 to 1919, Buckminster Fuller served in the U.S. Navy. During his service, he invented a winch for rescue boats that could quickly pull downed airplanes out of the ocean, saving the lives of pilots. Because of the invention, Fuller was nominated to receive officer training at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he studied engineering.
Fuller was commissioned an ensign in the U.S. Navy in 1917, during WWI. After a three-month training course at Annapolis, he received training as an aviator. He served as a commander of crash (rescue) boats at the Navy Flying School at Newport News, Virginia, and was discharged in 1919 as a lieutenant (j.g.) at the end of the war.
It was during his navy service that he developed his first two practical inventions: a seaplane rescue mast, and a jet stilt for vertical take-off aircraft. He later invented geodesic domes. He died in Los Angeles on July 1, 1983. Fuller often stated that he got the idea for his book "Manual for Spaceship Earth" from his experiences as a naval officer, comparing a planet traveling through space to a ship at sea.
The Navy provided much food for Fuller's thoughts about history and the Universe. But on November 1, 1919 he resigned when Adm. Gleaves was re-assigned, and his daughter, Alexandra, got sick.
• Presidential Medal of Freedom presented to him on February 23, 1983 by President Ronald Reagan •
R. Buckminster Fuller
Last Updated: Jun 10, 2010
Wartime experience: From 1917 to 1919, Buckminster Fuller served in the U.S. Navy.
He served in the U.S. Navy in World War I, as a shipboard radio operator, as an editor of a publication, and as a crash-boat commander. During his service, he invented a winch for rescue boats that could quickly pull downed airplanes out of the ocean, saving the lives of pilots. Because of the invention, Fuller was nominated to receive officer training at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he studied engineering.