Who first thought of the idea for inflatable buildings? We’ve written about the first person to actually design and build an air structure, David Geiger, but he wasn’t actually the first person to think of the idea—only the first to put it into practice. So who did come up with the idea, then?
Well, as with any invention, it’s hard to say who first came up with an idea, but it’s easy to figure out who first submitted patents for it. In the case of inflatable structures, the first U.S. patent was submitted by a gentleman named Woldemar A. Bary, way back on April 28th, 1955. The patent itself was accepted (presumably) on June 3rd, 1958—a full 12 years before the unveiling of Geiger’s air structure at the ‘70s World Fair.
There really isn’t too much info out there about Woldemar, but some careful Googling revealed a few mentions. A summary of his life exists in the archives of Hope College.
Woldemar was born in 1887 and, although his father was an engineer from America, he was raised in Moscow. This meant that the Russian Revolution, which took place in 1917, heavily impacted Woldemar. As a young man, he found himself as a part of the White Army, the resistance force. Because of his involvement in the resistance, he was forced to flee Russia to America—which he did, while disguised as a woman.
Details of Woldemar’s life are sparse but we do know that Woldemar served as the vice-president of Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation. Sikorsky are notable for being among the first companies to build helicopters for military as well as civilian use.
We’re not sure what inspired Woldemar’s invention of an air supported structure, but he had enough interest in the idea to submit a patent application for the idea in 1955. The images that he submitted for his patent quite clearly show structures that resemble those that The Farley Group builds and maintains now, over 60 years later.
Reading his patent, it doesn’t seem as though Woldemar foresaw the most popular use of inflatable structures in the 21st century. In his patent, Woldemar stated that the structures would be ideal for “sheltering or housing personnel or animals or protecting equipment, apparatus and supplies, as well as plants…” While domes are still used for warehousing, storage, and manufacturing, he makes no mention of sport or multisport domes—now the most common use of domes.
Despite not being the first person to actually create an air dome, he did see the first structures built by others. After David Geiger created the first air supported structure, the 70’s saw other domes go up around the world—including the first North American domes of Ralph Farley. Woldemar would have seen these prior to his death in 1979 at the age of 92.
Woldemar’s original designs laid some of the groundwork for air supported structures as they are today—despite the fact that Woldemar himself, never fully realized his own designs. The fact remains, though, that Woldemar is a key figure in the history of air supported structures and his contribution will forever be recorded in the U.S. patent records. The Farley Group’s air structures may take Woldemar’s designs and function to the next level, but his unique ideas laid much of the groundwork.