Dymaxion World

The Evolution of Mass Production

A clip from Charlie Chaplin's 1936 film Modern Times in which Chaplin struggles to find his way in the newly industrialized world

Mass production, a by-product of World War I, greatly influenced Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion designs. Fuller made use of the already existing factories and the excess aluminum to manufacture a machine for habitation. Mass production not only saved the U.S. during the Great Depression, it also won them the war as an industrial superpower.
The prefabrication of homes started approximately around the same time as the emergence of the definition of the "nuclear family." The earliest example of prefab housing was in 1624, when the English built a wooden panelled building that could be disassembled, and moved. Prefabrication becomes a key part of Fuller’s design. He invasions all of his residential projects made of independent parts that could either be assembled on site or prefabricated in a factory and then airdropped onto the site.
There are three main types of prefabricated homes categorized by assembly location, mobility, and division of parts.
     1) Modular homes are entirely fabricated in a single factory and are delivered to the site 
          near completion.
     2) Component homes are made out of various parts that are brought to the site to be 
          assembled. These parts are often customized for the site, and can come from various 
           3)   Motor homes are entirely mobile, with design directions towards efficiency, and
          durability rather than relation to the site.
Component Homes can be classified into two categories; prefabricated homes and kit homes. Prefabricated homes carry most elements of the home and are brought to the site to be assembled whereas a kit home includes every part of the home.
Prefab homes became a feature for the Dwelling Machine as Buckminster sought to “maximize the performance of the house per pound of material in its structure.” But The Dwelling Machine is not considered a kit home or a prefab home. Although it came to the site in several parts, the assembly of these parts required a lot of site work, unlike the average prefab home. The Dwelling Machine was broken into individual parts packaged in a long metal tube to be assembled on site. If one part of the home became defective, it could be easily taken out and replaced without any tampering of any other part of the house. 


Significant Dates:

1903: Henry Ford forms the Ford Motor Company.

1908: Sears Roebuck & Co. establishes a mail program for kit homes.
Sears Roebuck and Co. are a chain of department stores founded by Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Curtis Roebuck in the late 19th century. Sears once had catalog homes sold between 1908 and 1940. These kit homes sold through mail order, offering the latest technology (central heating, indoor plumbing, and electricity) in their modern homes. These prefab houses become another of Buckminster’s competitors who sold 700,000 kits in North America during the period it was available.

1908: The 15th million Ford Model T automobiles is sold.

1911: Fredrick W. Taylor publishes “The Principles of Scientific Management.” Fredrick Taylor is an American mechanical engineer who wanted to better industrial efficiency through a number of principles he devises through scientific management. Fredrick Taylor reflects Buckminster’s idea on fully establishing efficiency through science.

1913: Henry Ford utilizes the assembly line in the production of the Ford Model T.
The assembly line was introduced to Ford by William Klann. Ford works out the practice of moving work from one worker to the next until the process becomes a complete unit. The succession of mass production is reflected in the millions of Ford Model T’s manufactured. Although first mechanized by Eli Whitney, Ford was known as the father of mass production. The assembly line becomes an essential way of diffusing Model T’s across North America and the main industrial formula during WWII. Buckminster decides to adopt this manufacturing process, further defining his Dymaxion Dwelling Machine as being truly efficient in both function and production.

1938: The Farm Security Administration builds 1,000 prefab homes in Missouri.

1939: Alcoa builds over 20 plants maximizing the production of aluminum. The mass production of aluminum becomes a fundamental part of the U.S.’s war effort.

1939: A total investment of $672 million is put into Alcoa.

1941-1943: Government finances the production capacity of aluminum by 2x.

1947: Federal Housing and Rent Act gets passed.

1947: William Levitt builds the first ever Levittown in New York.
William Levitt was an American real-estate developer dubbed the“Father of Modern American Suburbia.”  He was the son of Abraham Levitt who started the Real estate development company: Levitt and Sons at the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929. He developed mass-production techniques of large development homes replacing farmland with suburban sprawl. As an outcome of mass-producing these suburban homes, Levitt is able to provide affordable housing. 
Levittown in Long Island becomes the site for his huge building project. Levittown is a planned town located in Nassau County. It was the first truly mass-produced suburb designed to minimize construction time. Levittown had multitudes of identical homes using modular construction and prefabricated components assembled on site.
Fuller had similar intentions in making single-family homes using prefabricated parts designed for easy shipment. Cladded in aluminum sheeting, the dwelling becomes lighter, stronger, less expensive to manufacture and easy to assemble. It is designed to be delivered in a metal tube and to be assembled in one day by six workers. Unfortunately, Fuller’s vision was directed towards creating a “machine for living;” a home that would function like a machine to improve the inhabitant’s standard of living rather than making a “machine for living in,” that would please its inhabitants.

1947: Buckminster Fuller introduces the Dymaxion Dwelling Machine to the public.

1949: US Housing Act gets passed.

Ford's History of Mass Production