The Man Behind the Inkwell Houses

There are around 2,000 19th century octagonal houses scattered around the United States. Mark Twain wrote his greatest novels while staying in one. P.T. Barnum owned one. The man behind this design was Orson Squire Fowler, a ministerial student, phrenologist, self-taught architect, and sex researcher.
“Why,” asked Fowler, was there” so little progress in architecture when there is so much in other matters! Why continue to build in the same square form of all past ages?” Orson Fowler knew close to nothing about architecture, he had never built a home, much less been trained in architectural design. In appropriate new age style, Fowler looked to nature for his design reforms. “She has ten thousand globular or cylindrical forms to one square one” Fowler wrote “Why not then adopt this spherical form of house?” Not being completely impractical, Fowler knew truly cylindrical houses would be far too expensive and difficult to construct. The compromise was the octagon.

Fowler published “The Octagon House: A Home For All, or A New, Cheap, Convenient, and Superior Mode of Building” In 1848. The book was well received, perhaps because along with the octagon shape, Fowler suggested a gravity-fed water system with indoor plumbing, central heating and natural gas lighting in his design, features that regardless of the house shape were a vast improvement over other current house designs. The book went through 9 printings with hundreds of Inkwell houses sprouting up within the decade.


Curious Expeditions has the story of Orson Squire Fowler and his 8-sided houses, plus many links to more octagonal home resources. Link

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