Fist Of History

Operation Big Buzz, Big Itch, Drop Kick, Magic Sword, and May Day

August 20th, 2014

Gas-Masks-Dogs-2

Ah the 1950s, specifically the Cold War of the 1950s, a time of experimentation, a time of national development, and a time also filled with a large mix of insanity inducing efforts to close the perceived power-gap and risks between the United States and its new rival the Soviet Union.  The 1950s in the United States were politically dominated by a period of anti-Communist “Red Scare” paranoia and concern that the Soviet Union was either pulling even to, or possibly pulling ahead, of the United States in the new race to command the forces of mass destruction.  This concern mainly focused on nuclear weapons, with the United States undertaking a large number of projects to enhance its capacity to deploy nuclear weapons and working to expand its limited nuclear arms arsenals, but it also involved more fringe research projects with a goal of ensuring the United States military dominance in all possible fields of struggle with the Soviet Union.  This lead to a large number of unusual projects, ranging from the sudden United States entry into the space race to research into fringe weapons programs and unusual warfare methods, such as doping random individuals with LSD to see if the drug made them more susceptible to brain washing.

madult

Of particular interest was the United States research into entomological warfare, specifically the use of insects as delivery vectors for biological agents, and the United States military undertook a series of feasibility tests to determine if this sort of program could be implemented, could be effective, and if it was cost effective.

Operation Big Itch - a 1954 test in Utah in which fleas were deployed by air in a series of carefully designed custom bombs to test the insects spread patterns for delivery of infectious agents.  The fleas did perform successfully although it was discovered that one design of bomb “leaked” and the fleas were able to escape and bite the airplane crew.

Operation Big Buzz - a 1955 test in Georgia in which several hundred thousand uninfected mosquitoes capable of carrying yellow fever were dispersed in swampy terrain to determine how far they would spread in a fixed length of time.  This test was successful in proving the fleas would disperse and would seek out fresh meals.

Operation Drop Kick - a 1956 and 1958 test of mosquitoes again, and once more in Georgia, this time using uninfected insects released in an inhabited area of Georgia to see how many would enter individual homes and bite citizens.  The test results proved successful and data was gathered showing that mosquitoes dropped in residential areas by bomb would indeed enter homes and bite people.

Operation May Day - another 1956 test, in Georgia once more, that showed mosquitoes put into a stupor with dry ice would awaken upon being dropped in urban areas and bite humans successfully.

Operation Magic Sword - a 1965 test, off the coast of the southeastern United States, that mosquitoes could be preserved for ocean deployment and could be relied upon to fly inland and bite humans.

Overall the tests showed that using these techniques would provide a “cost per death” of $1.21 per kill (2014 dollars) which was considered quite competitive with other means of deployment and fifty percent mortality rate was possible.

Of course one of the challenges of researching early Cold War operations is many of them are still classified, and I personally as a historian look forward to more such interesting discoveries as archives are declassified.

Sources:  Wikipedia articles on Operating Big Buzz, Big Itch, May Day, Magic Sword, Drop Kick, US Cold War Entomological Warfare, and a confirming entry in Chemical and Biological Warfare, a Comprehensive Survey…

The Frenchmen who were the last defenders of Hitler’s bunker

August 18th, 2014

Charlemagne_Division_SOldiers

World War II was a complex conflict – although portrayed by the modern media as a war of the Allies (Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union) against the Axis (Germany, Italy, and Japan) the war also featured a core ideological struggle that stretched easily back to the 1930s, the struggle between Fascism and Communism, and both of those extremes against the idea of representational Democracy as a model of government.  One of the countries most fiercely divided on this issue, that remained a semi-functional democracy up to 1940, was France.  When France was defeated in 1940 by a German invasion a significant minority of the French population actively welcomed the invasion, and France’s defeat, as heralding an end to earlier (and perceived) weaker French governments dominated by leftist forces and their replacement by more conservative, dictatorial, and controlling forms of government.  These extreme right-wing figures in French politics, and their supporters, provided the fodder for French recruits to fight in 1941 in the German invasion of the Soviet Union.

Russland-Mitte, Soldaten der französischen Legion, Fahne

As you will notice in the first picture above, the two soldiers are wearing German uniforms but there is a tricolor decoration on the foremost soldiers sleeve, that is because he is serving in the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division, one of several “nationality” SS divisions created by Germany as the war against the Soviet Union turned against Germany.  (The divisions alternative name was the “Charlemagne Division.”)  Initially the Fascist-friendly French volunteers fought in a special volunteer unit, the Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism (LVF for short) fought from 1941 till 1944 on the Eastern Front, taking part in the attack on Moscow and later in anti-partisan actions in the rear of the conquered Soviet territories.  (This was due to the LVF getting a hellish drubbing in front of Moscow by Soviet forces and not having sufficient manpower, even with additional recruiting, to return to full front-line service.)  The unit in 1944 was merged with other French right wing military fragments fleeing the Allied invasion of France into the Charlemagne Division which fought in numerous holding actions in Eastern Germany.

Berlin_1945

Badly mauled in late 1944 again in a battle with the Soviet Union the remnants of the Charlemagne Division was assigned to the 1945 Defense of Berlin, where they fought with distinction against the Soviet Union’s forces and were the last unit still fighting to defend Hitler’s bunker in the heart of the city.  The few remaining soldiers of this division finally surrendered on 2 May 1945 and were later taken before the Free French military for trial.  A few were imprisoned and some were shot.

33divss

The name of the division, and its badge (seen above) were nods to earlier Medieval history when both France and Germany were territories that made up part of Charlemagne’s Frankish empire, the eagle on the left represents Germany while the fleurs-de-lys on the right represent France.

More broadly this unit was part of a larger trend by 1944 undertaken by Nazi Germany, and specifically Himmler in the SS, of trying to shift the nature of the war from a German war to a pan-European war against Bolshevism.

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division, Jewish Virtual Library entry on the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division, and passage from Surrender Invites Death on the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division

Old Cartoons and Old Ads Friday

August 15th, 2014

Ad_American_Girl_Gloves_Cheapest_Best_1892

Source:  Life Magazine, 1892

Note – nothing like a bit of jingoism to sell products

Stout_People_Ad_1887

Source:  Life Magazine, 1887

Note – the method of the pitch may change but the heart of the sell remains the same

Sorosis_Shoe_Ad_1901

Source:  Life Magazine, 1901

Note – I shall investigate the story of this shoe riot as the ad alludes, however note jingoism again and a lovely stereotypical image of a German

Rotary_Hat_Iron_Ad_1893

Source:  Life Magazine, 1893

Note – indeed it was used to smooth down silk hats by middle class individuals who wanted to look styling but may have lacked the necessary domestic help.  Steampunk enthusiasts might want to bring these back.

Cartoon_Women_China_Babies_Pigs_Rascist_1892

Source:  Life Magazine, 1892

Note – yes the past was really horrible at times

Sanitation and Surgery

August 13th, 2014

amputation_saw_US_civil_war

amputation_knife_US_civil_war

tenaculum_US_civil_war

This entry leads off with three images of surgical instruments from the United States Civil War, used from 1861-1865, and beyond causing readers to cringe when they remember these items were usually used without benefit of anesthesia on the patients there is another reason for the large images, if you look at them closely you will notice a key similarity, specifically in the grips on each instrument.  Notice the carefully inscribed cross-hatch pattern in the instrument, included to provide the surgeon with a more sure grip when working with the tool, in case of blood or other fluids coating the instrument.  It was also there to ensure the surgeon could maintain his grip when working quickly, again due to the lack of anesthetics.  The other problem though was that grip pattern provided an excellent niche for the growth of bacteria, which during the U.S. Civil War was a singularly significant problem due to the scale of operations being conducted.

The average battlefield surgeon on both sides of the conflict had to work fast to process a previously unprecedented level of injured men from combat, as such they would process the wounded in an assembly line mentality, moving from each injured individual to the next, on the same table, and with the same tools, only stopping to sharpen blades as needed.  Cross-contamination was a major problem and many soldiers on both sides died due to post-operation infections.  Surgeons during this period saw it as a source of pride and professional skill to be able to do this, working fast, some even bragged about the level of stains on their operating garments as proof of their skill and years of experience.  Germ theory did not impact their work because it simply was not widely accepted.

Joseph_Lister_1902

Enter Joseph Lister, who in England was working on the practical application of germ theory to modern surgical practices, based on the work of Pasteur, Lister worked on developing chemical methods for sterilizing wounds, bandages, and instruments as well as proper washing techniques for surgeons to avoid spreading infection.  In testing Lister discovered that a 5% solution of carbolic acid was excellent for the purpose, he tested it on one surgery on an eleven year old who had suffered a compound fracture from an accident with a cart.  Using carbolic acid to clean the wounds, and surgical instruments, Lister discovered that weeks later not only were the wounds still uninfected but they were healing better than previous efforts.  Lister was able to spread the practice, as a professor of surgery at the University of Glasgow Lister was able to get surgeons under his authority to use the new technique.  Results impressed and Lister’s new technique slowly but surely spread throughout Europe and to the United States, regrettably for many Civil War veterans years or decades after its discovery.  (President Garfield was one such victim, after being shot his wound was explored by an on-site doctor who just shoved his finger into the hole, followed by further doctors after the incident who probed the wound with non-sanitized fingers and instruments.)

bone saw satterleeLister had one more major impact as well, he was successful in getting the design of surgical instruments changed to use non-natural/porous materials for the handles and to bring about an end to the original cross-hatch designs to ensure a grip.  If you take a look at the modern amputation saws above you’ll notice the saw part of it is functionally very similar to the past, but the handles, now they have a far less pronounced grip design and one that can be cleaned properly.

Sources:  Daily Mail article on U.S. Civil War surgery, Wikipedia article on Joseph Lister.

 

Competing Submachine Guns – the Grease and the Burp Gun

August 11th, 2014

Submachine_gun_M1928_ThompsonOne of the more interesting ordinance challenge that the United States faced during World War II was providing its infantry with a working sub-machine gun in sufficient quantities to make a major battlefield difference.  At the start of the war the main sub-machine gun available for use by the U.S. was the Thompson sub-machine gun, a powerful, well-made, and highly reliable weapon.  Unfortunately it was also difficult to manufacture, expensive, and a bit delicate in the battlefield due to its firing mechanism.  Several different approaches were taken to the problem, including a simplified redesign of the Thompson and a rival design.  The winner in the contest though, was the M3 sub-machine gun, otherwise known as the “grease gun.”

M3-SMG

Firing a .45 caliber round, the same sized round as the Thompson, the M3 was a far cheaper, and far simpler to manufacture weapon, that was widely used in the U.S. military from 1943 to 1945.  (Around 600,000 individual weapons were distributed to the U.S. military during the war.)  A variant that used 9mm cartridges was also developed and used in far more limited quantities, including as a weapon for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the U.S. “spy” branch in the war.  The M3 got its nickname of “grease gun” by U.S. troops due to its more than passing resemblance to the oiling tool used by mechanics.  The M3 was designed as a disposable gun, only a few parts were precision made and if it ended up damaged soldiers were expected to get rid of it and replace it with a reissued weapon.  Made of thin metal and quickly assembled it was prone to jamming problems but proved useful in the war.  As an interesting aside, it also did not feature an integrated safety feature for the gun, once loaded it was “live” until unloaded.

MP_40_AYF_2

Opposing the U.S. forces were German sub-machine guns, nicknamed “burp guns” by the U.S. military due to their distinctive sound when firing rapidly, often described as “ripping canvas” it inspired the nickname mainly due to the huge burst of fire the weapons produced.  Of interest though is the fact that two very different weapons got the nickname “burp gun” – the above pictured MP 40, a German manufactured high-firing rate weapon with a 9mm cartridge.  This weapon has been burned into the modern American movie and television audience because it often appears in television shows or films as a “default” German weapon carried by infantry that looks appropriately bad ass.

indiana_jones_and_the_raiders_of_the_lost_ark_belloq_nazi_officers_nazis_book

(You’ll notice in the above image from Raiders of the Lost Ark three of the four armed Nazi soldiers are carrying MP 40 looking guns)

The reality though was production numbers on the MP-40 were far too low to meet German needs and the weapon was usually only issued to squad leaders, paratroopers, and later more troops as the war continued.  However the Nazi government was able to deploy in larger quantities another sub-machine gun, the PPSh-41, a Soviet weapon which was captured in large quantities during the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, a gun that sounded similar when fired to the MP-40 and that was also nicknamed a “burp gun” by the U.S.

PPSh-41_from_soviet

Made by the U.S.S.R. after their disastrous 1939-1940 war with Finland as a means to rapidly increase the average Soviet infantry units firepower, the German military came into possession of large numbers of these weapons as they swept through the Soviet Union through 1941.  German industry undertook a major project to shift the gun from its Soviet ammunition, at 7.62mm, to the larger 9mm German cartridge.  The German army also, in a confusing move, kept some of these at the 7.62mm cartridge and issued their forces with special ammunition to use it.  U.S. forces faced off against this weapon several times from 1944 to 1945 and even used some that had been captured from retreating German units as supplemental sub-machine guns.

On a odd side-note the PPSh-41 was provided after World War II in large quantities by the U.S.S.R. to the People’s Republic of China and the North Korean military, both of which put the weapon to use against the U.S. and allies in the Korean War.  It was during this war its nickname as a “burp gun” was cemented in the common image of the weapon.

Sources:  Wikipedia articles on the M3 sub-machine gun, the PPSh-41, the MP 40 and a section in The Crash of Ruin on the “burp gun

Friday Old Comics and Old Ads

August 8th, 2014

Bell_Cap_Sic_Ad_1890

Source:  Life Magazine, 1890

Note – because any of you wimpy nonathletic types wouldn’t be able to appreciate the wonder of spicy plaster of paris

Butts_Bromo_Lithia_Hangover_Ad_1883

Source:  Life Magazine, 1883

Note – I’m not sure but if I’m right and “Lithia” covers lithium it would make a post drinking bout happy for anybody

Cartoon_Hairbrush_1892

Source:  Life Magazine, 1892

Cartoon_Greenie_Police_Force_1892

Source:  Life Magazine, 1892

Note for both cartoons – the past is hilarious because it was so horrifying sometimes

1903_Cartoon_Significant_Glance_Strenuous_Dance

Source:  Life Magazine, 1903

Note – a reference to the impending 1904 Presidential election – the lady is the United States and the gentleman are various potential Democratic candidates.  Teddy was a vigorous President.

1903_Ford_Motor_Company_First_Ad

Source:  Life Magazine, 1903

Note – not only do I like the slogan, “Boss of the Road” but also this represents a bit of a gem for me to find, it ran in the early July 1903 edition of Life Magazine.  Henry Ford incorporated the Ford Motor Company in June 1903.  It is possible this is one of the first automobile ads they ever ran.  If you note the address, 696 Mack Avenue, it was Ford’s first factory for that company and featured small skilled artisan craftsmanship of cars.

Nazi’s Anti-Smoking Campaign

August 6th, 2014

German_anti-smoking_ad

From its initial rise to power in 1933 through its collapse in 1945 the German Nazi government supported an aggressive anti-smoking campaign through a process of legislation and restriction, combined with state-support for scientific research into the impact of smoking on individual health.  The research was probably the most interesting aspect of the campaign, in 1939 and again in 1943 Nazi sponsored scientists discovered causal links between smoking and lung cancer, as well as linking smoking to a higher risk of cardiac disease.  Furthermore Nazi scientists were the first to discover the idea that second-hand smoke could have negative health impacts upon other individuals.  This research, due to the stigma upon German science during this period for its illicit and immoral research upon human subjects and high levels of human-focused cruelty, was ignored and simply forgotten until American and British scientists discovered the same connection again in the 1950s.

Adolf_Hitler_retouched

Hitler himself was a strong anti-smoking supporter and provided personal funding to the Institute for Tobacco Hazards Research at the University of Jena, he had been a heavy smoker himself in the 1920s but abandoned the habit out of personal distaste.  Hitler encouraged his close associates not to smoke and rewarded those who gave up smoking, he also instituted laws to impose a stigma upon tobacco, including prohibitions against German police and postal workers smoking in uniform, prohibitions smoking on public transportation, prohibitions on smoking in cafes and restaurants, and later laws against smoking in bomb shelters.  The Nazi government also imposed heavy taxes upon smoking, causing an increase up to 95% above the retail cost due to taxation.  Tobacco taxes in turn became a major source of government revenue, during the war providing about eight percent of the total income to the government.  Finally Hitler took personal steps as the commander-in-chief of the German military to combat tobacco use by soldiers, including cutting the average soldiers tobacco ration and blocking tobacco consumption in members of the Hitler Youth on military duty in the later stages of the war.  (They were given candy instead.)

nazi_anti-smoking_advert

Of course, being Nazi’s, nothing can ever be entirely free of ideological weirdness and the inherent urge to tinker with humanity to “improve it” based on a complex created system of racial purity and morality.  The Nazi government imposed sharp laws prohibiting access by women under twenty-five and over fifty-five from being able to buy cigarettes in popular public venues like cafes, prohibited access to cigarettes for youths under eighteen, and launching strong propaganda efforts to convince women to give up smoking.  This was based on the theory that smoking would make German women less attractive and less physically fit for breeding, a goal that was counter to the Nazi government’s reproductive policies designed to encourage German/”Aryan” women to breed often and with gusto.  Although German scientists also argued that nicotine could get to infants through their mothers milk if the mother smoked, an argument apparently later backed by science, the rest was focused on German racial philosophy.

nazi_smoking

Also because they are Nazis they had to turn Germans smoking into yet another example of how Jews were trying to undermine German morality and culture.  I would like to say I’m personally shocked the Nazi government would do so but I’d be lying.

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on Nazi anti-smoking campaign, Atlantic Monthly article on the Nazi anti-smoking campaign

Hitler’s Fashion Designs

August 5th, 2014

wwii-nazi-german-ss-m32-uniform-set-541a8[3]

One of the more fascinating aspects of Nazi Germany was the attention Hitler paid towards appearances, specifically design and consistency of look as well as ensuring that Nazi uniforms were genuinely stylish in design.  In particular, for both Hitler and Himmler, it was particularly critical that the uniforms for the SS presented a powerful collection of symbols and psychological intimidation.  Hence the well tailored look, the all black color, and the custom designed symbols for that organization, many of which were created in an effort to generate a new “legacy” for the Nazi party and the SS within the German cultural memory.  (It is particularly critical to note that the Nazi party saw itself as a revolutionary institution that was attempting to revitalize Germany and German culture, so although Nazi military uniforms linked to earlier Prussian and German military designs it was also key to the Nazi party’s image that it create a new cultural space for itself in Germany.)

KarlDiebitsch

The artist most responsible for the SS “look” was Karl Diebitsch, who working with a graphic designed named Walter Heck designed the SS runic logo, the symbol for which the organization became best known.  Diebitsch was an interesting figure, he trained as an artist prior to World War I and served in the war in the German Navy where he was decorated.  In 1920 he joined the Nazi party and also served in the Freikorps, he finished his art education in the mid-1920s and rejoined the Nazi party when they came into power after 1933.  He was able to rise in the ranks and was a central design figure for much of the war to the SS, creating letterhead, the top decorations for swords, and other SS paraphernalia.  He was also a designer of many Nazi postage stamps as well and designed a tapestry that Himmler kept in his personal quarters.  Diebitsch survived the war and died in 1985.

An_actual_Picture_of_Hugo

Regarding SS and other Nazi uniforms we have the case of Hugo Boss, a clothing manufacturer who was able to win production contracts for several uniforms for the Nazi state, including the SS, Hitler Youth, the SA, and other Nazi groups.  Prior to that Boss had held other government uniform contracts, including making items for the German postal service.  His clothing company was known for producing functional, utilitarian clothing at reasonable prices.  During World War II Boss also employed forced labor under terrible conditions, not the worst employer to do so, but he enjoyed the benefits of underpaid forced labor as did many other German manufacturers in the period.  Although blamed for “designing” the uniforms Boss was merely one producer of many, although his rising revenue from the Nazi state and the “crony capitalism” nature of the Nazi government implies Boss probably did a fair amount of politicking and fundraising for the Nazi party.  (The record does show he voluntarily joined several Nazi industrial and social groups and was himself a Nazi party member from 1931 onwards.)  After the war Boss was initially found to be a supporter of the Nazi party, was heavily fined and had his right to vote stripped by the occupying Americans, however on appeal he was later downgraded to only “follower” and had his voting rights restored.

Sources:  Wikipedia articles on Hugo Boss (owner), Hugo Boss clothing line, Karl Diebitsch, and a Daily Mail article on Hugo Boss and the Nazi party

The 1915 Bomb Attack on the U.S. Capital Building

July 30th, 2014

eric-muenter

Meet Eric Muenter, instructor in the German language at Harvard University and World War I independent saboteur for the German cause.  Muenter’s early history is not particularly well known, he was a German immigrant to the United States who found work as an educator, got married, and had a child on the way in 1915 when he became impassioned about the German cause and enraged at what he perceived as the United States meddling in the war, meddling he saw as prolonging the war and preventing Germany from bringing its war to a favorable ending.  As a German nationalist Muenter was unwilling to allow this to continue and he developed a plan to alert the United States public that they needed to end this “illegal and immoral” intervention in a European war.  Muenter decided that he would wage this necessary demonstration upon the United States and bring American intervention into the war to an end.

Senate_Bombing_July_2,_1915

Muenter began by poisoning his pregnant wife with arsenic, it is unclear why he wanted to kill off his wife and unborn infant but once he had murdered them Muenter fled his hometown to avoid arrest and traveled to Washington D.C. to plant a bomb in the United States Capital building.  On 2 July 1915 Muenter was able to sneak into the Capital building with a timer detonator and three sticks of dynamite, he was not able to get into the actual Senate chamber itself, it was locked, but he was able to get into the Senate Reception chamber and hide his bomb within the room.  At twenty minutes before midnight on 2 July 1915 the bomb went off and badly damaged the room, including wrecking the telephone switchboard that served the Senates needs.  Muenter had hoped his action would spark a backlash in the United States against the war, he explained his actions in a letter to the Washington Evening Star, however prior to its publication he continued his plan of individual sabotage by planting a bomb aboard a munitions ship, the S.S. Minnehaha and then attempting an assassination.

morgan

His target was J.P. Morgan, American financier/banker and one of the most visibly influential financial leaders in the United States.  Muenter blamed American banks and financial institutions for prolonging the war, and violating the principle of United States neutrality, due to their heavy lending to the Triple Entee nations, Great Britain, France, Russia, and Italy.  Muenter planned to kill Morgan to put a fear of lending to the Western European nations into American bankers, he was able to get into the Morgan’s mansion and met Morgan himself in the front entrance, where Muenter opened fire.  Muenter’s aim wasn’t very good and ended up shooting Morgan in the “groin region” as a later article delicately alluded, apparently Muenter also merely upset Morgan who attempted to subdue him.  Muenter fled but was captured – either by the local police and/or Morgan’s servants.

Muenter was arrested but before his trial killed himself in his jail cell.  Apparently he initially attempted suicide by cutting his wrists using a small bit of metal he pried off of a pencil eraser, the effort though failed.  Afterwards he resorted to killing himself by falling, as a 1942 article on him colorfully states:  “he climbed a latticework of prison bars and dived head first to the concrete floor, dashing his skull to pieces.”

Muenter was not an official agent of the German government nor were his actions sanctioned, but he is just one example of World War I sabotage undertaken to undermine the American effort in World War I.  The German government was far more creative in its sanctioned efforts, like the time it destroyed an entire island off the coast of New York.

Sources:  Wikipedia on Eric Muenter, Senate history entry on Muenter, Harvard Crimson 1942 article on Muenter, and DC Crime Stories article on Muenter

The Dymaxion Car!

July 28th, 2014

dymaxian_car1

Created in 1933 by Buckminster Fuller the Dymaxion Car was his attempt to explore the assumptions that underlay the nature of the idea of a “car” in 1930s society.  The Dymaxion Car was built around the engine and drive train of a contemporary Ford car for 1933, however Fuller completely changed the layout and design of the car.  The engine was pushed to the rear of the vehicle, which featured only one wheel, and the operator was centered over/near the front axle, to provide the car with greater stability in travel.  Fuller went with a design that included a considerable number of windows to increase visibility and its “teardrop” shape to take maximum advantage of aeronautical efficiency.  The Dymaxion Car was designed to seat a total of eleven people (including the driver) and was estimated by Fuller to be able to reach a theoretical top seed of 120 miles per hour.  (In actual performance it only reached 90 miles per hour in operation.)  It was also found to have an average fuel efficiency of thirty miles to the gallon, which for the 1930s was an unheard of level of fuel efficiency.  The Dymaxion Car also had an incredibly tight u-turn radius.

dymaxian_car2

So the question one must ask – why didn’t this idea take off in the 1930s?  Was it too “radical for the times” or did it push the boundaries of “conventional thought” as some contest many of Fuller’s ideas were prone to do?  Perhaps, as one author has contended, it was a sinister cabal of bankers threatening the funding of Chrysler, which was interested in the concept car, due to the danger this miracle car represented to existing car models and used car lines!  This was the bleeding edge of 1930s automobile thinking to some people looking back, of course it would be crushed by big auto!

The reality though is a great deal more prosaic, the car had issues in cross-winds, specifically it got very wobbly and extremely hard to manage in even moderate winds.  Worse while driving around during the 1933 Worlds Fair, where it was being shown off, the Dymaxion Car rolled over and injured the individuals riding inside of it.  Despite several additional prototypes he tinkered with regularly for several years, Fuller simply could not get the car stable in cross-winds.  This problem is actually fairly common to three wheeled vehicles, a single wheel in the rear or the front makes for a wobbly car, often times in not unusual driving circumstances.

Dymaxion3

The Dymaxion Car, like so many other Fuller ideas, was eventually abandoned by its creator who moved on to new concepts to make the world a better place.  Overall as a car it was revolutionary but, like many amazing new technological ideas, when actually put into testing it failed to meet one of the basic requirements expected of it, mainly, not rolling over.

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on the Dymaxion Car, the Dymaxion Car by the Buckminster Fuller institute, and Times 50 Worst Cars of All Time entry on the Dymaxion Car