Interview by Studs Terkel
We discovered two interviews with Buckminster Fuller that Studs Terkel recorded in 1965 and 1970. They’re part of the Studs Terkel Radio Archive.
The Animated Transcript
Studs Terkel was a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who interviewed thousands of everyday Americans and international notables during a 45-year stint at WFMT-FM in Chicago.
One of the most original spirits of our time. Buckminister Fuller sings of man’s potency. Everyone aware of his work agrees that Buckminster Fuller’s one of the original minds of our time.
I was born in the era of the specialist. I set about to be purposely comprehensive, just the opposite. And I made up my mind that you don’t just find out something to entertain yourself, you must find out things in order to be able to turn everything, not just in a philosophical statement, but into actually tools. I must reorganize the environment of man by which then greater numbers of men can prosper. That’s been my main undertaking.
We can turn this tape, there’s no problem. There’s so many questions to ask you, Mr. Fuller.
You can call me Bucky.
I was married in World War 1. Our first child was born and she caught this spinal meningitis and infantile paralysis and it was an awful struggle. This child lived to just before her fourth birthday and she died in November 1922 and so for 5 years I was feeling really horribly sad about this kid. I felt that if the kind of technology that went into making a battleship and an airplane and guns had gone into… I was sure this child had caught these things out of the environment and I was sure that there was something wrong about our environment. In the Navy I had learned how to navigate, I’ve used mathematics very powerfully. I learned how to calculate. I was sure things were just not being done in logical ways.
By 1927 our second child was born and I had suddenly a new child after 5 years of going without the girl we loved so much. I said I got a chance now to look out for this new life and I’m going to have to really re-think everything I have. I had absolutely no money and suddenly this new child and everybody tells you you got to earn a living. I said I think this is absolutely a blinding thing. I’m either going to say you go out to make money or you’re going to make sense.
I recall in Chicago wheeling my little child in her baby carriage in Lincoln Park. I was amazed, because a little biplane went over Lincoln Park. Air planes were not very common in those days. I said, “Isn’t it amazing. Here’s my child looking up at that airplane and that airplane in the sky is as natural to her as a bird.” Because when I was born, the airplane did not exist. It was really the start of the beginning of impossible things happening.
I began to feel for what really needs to be done in a very biggest way. Well I found that I couldn’t improve an airplane very much, I’m not going to improve electronics very much. There were a great many people preoccupied with that, but where man was living, he was really very ignorant. It’s where people live that needs attention and I saw that the way in which we built was very, very ignorant. When you build a boat it’s got to float. So you learn to do a whole lot with little. It’s got to be strong enough not to sink. It’s got to to carry a cargo. The world of building on the land was very different from the sea and the sky. I said, “why was it different?” Because man used to build fortresses and the heavier and higher and thicker the walls the more secure it felt.
Some people think of a house as a fortress rather than a place to live.
Yes. So I’m going to see what happens If I will take the kind of technology that’s going with the sea and the sky and apply it over to the land.
So many things to ask you, Bucky, that you have foreseen. Thinking of your geodesic dome, do you see actually roofed cities ever?
We’re continually doing more with less, and my geodesic domes do a very great deal with very little but I think they’re only symptomatic, Studs, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we find ways to control that environment over the city without even seeing the roof there, there would be an electrical field control so forth. We could make the water go and dump over here, and pipe it there, and so forth, whatever it may be.
It seems that Buckminster Fuller speaks outrageously and, yet, you’ve come up with so many outrageous explanations that turn out to be right, and accurate, and true, and practical …
Time and again, I am asked, “who else do you know who thinks the way you do, or does what you do?” I find it very strange to have to answer, “I don’t know anybody else.” It’s not because I think of myself as unique, but simply because I did choose a very different grand strategy, and not because I think that I have capabilities that other human beings don’t have.
My daughter, who I was wheeling the baby carriage, who had an airplane as normal in her sky, now has her daughter and that daughter was born in New York. They were right in the flight path for flights out of LaGuardia and Idlewild. This little child then, in her crib, would hear this roar of those airplanes, and she saw many thousands of airplanes before she ever saw a bird. I saw the children’s books that were sent to her, which were the traditional, what a children’s book would be. They’re the same children’s books that were sent to me when I was a child. They were farm yard. There was a barn and all the nice natural things. The child would see the horse, and the pig, and the cow, and the goat, sheep, rooster. My granddaughter, in New York City, looked out the window and saw the airplanes, and she saw the automobiles going by by the minute, but when they gave her this farm book, she didn’t had never seen a sheep or a cow. It was as if you gave her these imaginary pictures of dragons and things. She was very accommodating. She laughed about it, it was very amusing. They weren’t natural to her.
The Full Interviews with Buckminster Fuller
The Fuller Dome
In April 1960, Bucky assembled the dome home in Carbondale [Illinois] and lived in it with his wife Anne until 1971. At the time Bucky was a professor in the Design Department at nearby Southern Illinois University. In the years that followed, Bucky’s home fell into disrepair.
But now it’s been preserved. Learn more about the effort to save Bucky’s home.
The Dymaxion American Dream House
The National Park Service
PBF Board NFP
The Henry Ford