The Dymaxion House
A vintage “House of the Future”
that you can visit today
A SIDE TRIP FROM
Yesterland
Tour the Dymaxion House, “A New Way of Living for 1946
Tour the Dymaxion House, “A New Way of Living for 1946.”
 
With Disneyland’s recent announcement of the Innoventions Dream House, there’s been a lot of interest in the old Monsanto House of the Future, which has been gone for over 40 years. It’s still fondly remembered through homage to the House of the Future at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
Did you know that here’s another highly original “house of the future” that still gives tours? It’s in Dearborn, Michigan.
Most Yesterland articles are about things that are gone, but this one is about an opportunity today to visit the future in 1946. (Does that make sense?)
Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, February 29, 2008    
 
Dymaxion House at Henry Ford Museum
The Dymaxion House at Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village

The round Dymaxion House resembles a flying saucer or a giant, foil-wrapped Hershey’s Kiss. It’s tucked inside a corner of the massive Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

Open House at the Dymaxion House
Follow the Open House sign for your tour.

Throughout the day, the museum provides guided tours through the unusual house. I’ve taken the tour about a half dozen times since the exhibit opened in 2001. Most of the tour guides explain the house’s history and point out its interesting features. A few of the more creative guides play the part of a salesperson in 1946 trying to convince you—the potential buyer—why you should live in your very own Dymaxion House.

“Mom loves the modern materials of the Dymaxion House...”
“Mom loves the modern materials of the Dymaxion House...”
 
“Dad admires the modern materials of the Dymaxion House...”
“Dad admires the modern materials of the Dymaxion House...”

The tour shows off the large living area, two pie-shaped bedrooms (each with a tiny pre-fab bathroom), and a simple, modern kitchen. There are all sorts of innovative touches: a centralized vacuum cleaner system; a linen closet with mechanized “o-volving shelves” that save space and eliminate the need to bend over; efficient downdraft ventilation that traps dust in baseboard filters; and wrap-around acrylic windows. The lightweight interior walls can be adjusted to increase the size of a room at the expense of another.

The door of the Dymaxion House resembles an aircraft door
The door of the Dymaxion House resembles an aircraft door.

The house is suspended from a central mast with provides all utilities. Although it’s made from lightweight steel, aluminum and plastic, it can withstand earthquakes and tornados. The engineered materials require no painting or re-roofing. The interior floors and walls are plywood. The Dymaxion House weighs just 3,000 pounds, compared to 300,000 pounds for a typical conventional home. The price of a Dymaxion House is similar to a Cadillac, so you can pay it off in just five years,

A ring of curved windows wraps around the Dymaxion House
A ring of curved windows wraps around the Dymaxion House.

The Dymaxion House—or Dymaxion Dwelling Machine—was the brainchild of visionary inventor, author, and futurist R. Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller (1895-1983).

In 1927, Fuller conceived the idea of a factory-produced house that would be affordable, environmentally efficient, and easily shipped. In 1929, the interior decorating department of Marshall Field’s department store in Chicago showcased Fuller’s concept. The store’s promotion manager asked advertising professional Waldo Warren (who is credited with coining the word radio) to come up with a name. After listening to Fuller speak for two days, Warren used syllables from some of Fuller’s favorite words to coin the term “Dymaxion,” with Dy from dynamic, max from maximum, and ion from tension.

The interior of the Dymaxion House is bright and open
The interior of the Dymaxion House is bright and open.

In 1945, Fuller convinced Beech Aircraft of Wichita, Kansas, that his aluminum house would be the perfect peacetime product for their factories, which had been building World War II aircraft. After all, both products are manufactured from pressed sheet metal. They formed Fuller Houses Inc. The plan was to produce the houses on an assembly line, pack the finished products in large metal tubes, ship them to home sites, plant their central support structure in the ground, and easily assemble complete houses. It would take one day for six workers to erect a house.

Two prototypes were built in 1945. Disagreements between Fuller and his financial backers doomed the venture. Fuller wanted to refine the design, while the financial types wanted to start manufacturing the homes and selling them to eager post-war buyers. Fuller would not compromise. No additional Dymaxion Houses were ever built.

One of the venture’s investors, William Graham, acquired the prototypes from the failed venture in 1948. Graham moved one house to a lot in Wichita and used the other one for parts. He grafted a conventional two-story home onto the futuristic aluminum house. The odd-looking result served as the Graham family home into the 1970s.

The modern furniture is wood, not plastic
The modern furniture is wood, not plastic.

In 1991, the Graham family donated the abandoned, raccoon-infested Dymaxion House to Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village. Representatives from the museum disassembled the house into about 3,000 components. Everything fit into a single truck headed to Dearborn, proof of that the house was designed to be easy to transport. In 1998, conservators began the job of analyzing all components and developing a plan to restore the house to its original glory. After a careful two-year reconstruction, the Dymaxion House opened to the public in fall of 2001.

Spaceship Earth model at One Man’s Dream at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Spaceship Earth model in Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

In 1954, Buckminster Fuller received the U.S. patent for the geodesic dome, a partial sphere constructed from a network of triangles. Today hundreds of thousands people live in geodesic domes homes, usually modest two-story domes built of wood.

Spaceship Earth at Epcot owes two debts to Fuller.

Essentially Spaceship Earth is a spectacular geodesic dome on a raised platform, with a smaller upside-down dome below the platform. Together, the two domes form a full sphere.

Fuller coined the term Spaceship Earth as the author of the book Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth.


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Updated February 12, 2010.


 
Photo of the Dymaxion House, “A New Way of Living for 1946: 2002 by Werner Weiss
Photo of the Dymaxion House at Henry Ford Museum ∓ Greenfield Village: 2004 by Werner Weiss
Photo of Open House sign at Dymaxion House: 2003 by Werner Weiss
Photo of “Mom loves the modern materials” sign: 2003 by Werner Weiss
Photo of “Dad admires the modern materials” sign: 2004 by Werner Weiss
Photo of door of the Dymaxion House: 2002 by Werner Weiss
Photo of ring of curved windows wrapping around the Dymaxion House: 2003 by Werner Weiss
Photo of the bright and open interior Dymaxion House: 2003 by Werner Weiss
Photo of bed in the Dymaxion House: 2002 by Werner Weiss
Photo of Spaceship Earth model in Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 2006 by Werner Weiss