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The Whole Earth Catalogs disseminated many of the ideas now associated with the 1960s and 1970s, particularly those of the counterculture and environmental movements. Later editions, plus descendant publications edited by Brand, circulated many innovative ideas during the 1970s-1990s.

NASA Earth

First color photograph of the whole Earth (western Hemisphere), shot from the ATS-3 satellite on 10 November 1967. Similar photos were used as the covers of the Fall 1968, Spring 1969, Fall 1969, October 1974, September 1980, and December 1994 issues of the Whole Earth Catalog. Applications Technology Satellite 3, or ATS-3, was a long-lived American experimental geostationary weather and communications satellite, operated by NASA from 1967 to 2001. NASA copyright policy states that "NASA material is not protected by copyright unless noted"; this file is in the public domain because it was solely created by NASA


The title Whole Earth Catalog came from a previous project of Stewart Brand. In 1966, he initiated a public campaign to have National Aeronautics and Space Administration release the then-rumored satellite photo of the sphere of Earth as seen from space, the first image of the "Whole Earth." He thought the image might be a powerful symbol, evoking a sense of shared destiny and adaptive strategies from people.

Toward the end of the 1960s, the Stanford-educated Brand, a biologist with strong artistic and social interests, believed that there was a groundswell of commitment to thoroughly renovating American industrial society along ecologically and socially just lines. In many ways, the changes that society went through after those days fell short in extent and number of such dreams, but they were still greater in extent and number than in any such handful of decades before in human history. So using the most basic of typesetting and page-layout tools, he and his colleagues created the first issue of The Whole Earth Catalog in 1968. In subsequent issues, its production values gradually improved.

Its outsize pages measured 11x14 inches (28x36 cm). Later editions were more than an inch thick. The early editions were published by the Portola Institute, headed by Richard Raymond. In 1972, the catalog won the Wikipedia:National Book Award, the first time a catalog had ever won such an award. Brand's intent with the catalog was to provide Wikipedia:education and "access to tools" so a reader could "find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested."[1]

Andrew Kirk in Counterculture Green notes that the Whole Earth Catalog was preceded by the "Whole Earth Truck Store". In the early 1970s, a small shop, called the Wikipedia:Whole Earth Truck Store, was opened in Wikipedia:Menlo Park, California. This store sold a variety of books described in the Whole Earth Catalog, as well as hard-to-find household goods, tools, and other items.[2] The WETS was a 1963 Dodge truck -- in 1968 Brand and his wife Lois embarked "on a commune road trip" with the truck hoping to tour the country doing educational fairs. The truck was not only a store but also a alternative lending library and a mobile microeducation service.[3]. The "Truck Store" finally settled into its permanent location in Wikipedia:Menlo Park, Wikipedia:California.[4] Instead of bringing the store to the people, Brand decided to create a catalog so the people could contact the vendors directly.

J. Baldwin was a young designer and instructor of design at two colleges near San Francisco Bay. As he recalled in the film Ecological Design (1994), "Stewart Brand came to me because he heard that I read catalogs. He said, 'I want to make this thing called a "whole Earth" catalog so that anyone on Earth can pick up a telephone and find out the complete information on anything. ...That’s my goal.'" Baldwin served as the chief editor of subjects in the areas of technology and design, both in the catalog itself and in other publications which arose from it.

True to his 1966 vision, Brand's publishing efforts were suffused with an awareness of the importance of Wikipedia:ecology, both as a field of study and as an influence upon the future of humankind and emerging human awareness.

Kevin Kelly made a similar comparison in 2008:

For this new countercultural movement, information was a precious commodity. In the ’60s, there was no Internet; no 500 cable channels. [... The WEC] was a great example of Wikipedia:user-generated content, without advertising, before the Internet. Basically, Brand invented the Wikipedia:blogosphere long before there was any such thing as a Wikipedia:blog. [...] No topic was too esoteric, no degree of enthusiasm too ardent, no amateur expertise too uncertified to be included. [...] This I am sure about: it is no coincidence that the Whole Earth Catalogs disappeared as soon as the web and blogs arrived. Everything the Whole Earth Catalogs did, the web does better.[5]

Content Edit

[[Wikipedia:File:WEC-69F-002r.jpg|thumb|upright|right|One page of a 1969 Wikipedia:Whole Earth Catalog]] The catalog divided itself into seven broad sections:

  • Understanding Whole Systems
  • Shelter and Land Use
  • Industry and Craft
  • Communications
  • Community
  • Nomadics
  • Learning

Within each section, the best tools and books the editors could find were collected and listed, along with images, reviews and uses, prices, and suppliers. The reader was also able to order some items directly through the catalog.

The Catalog used a broad definition of "tools." There were informative tools, such as books, maps, professional journals, courses, and classes. There were well-designed special-purpose utensils, including garden tools, carpenters' and masons' tools, welding equipment, chainsaws, fiberglass materials, tents, hiking shoes, and potters' wheels. There were even early synthesizers and personal computers.

The Catalog's publication coincided with a great wave of convention-challenging experimentalism and a do-it-yourself attitude associated with "the counterculture," and tended to appeal not only to the intelligentsia of the movement, but to creative, hands-on, and outdoorsy people of many stripes. Some of the ideas in the Catalog were developed during Brand's visits to Wikipedia:Drop City.

With the Catalog opened flat, the reader might find the large page on the left full of text and intriguing illustrations from a volume of Wikipedia:Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilization in China, showing and explaining an astronomical clock tower or a chain-pump windmill, while on the right-hand page are an excellent review of a beginners' guide to modern technology (The Way Things Work) and a review of The Engineers’ Illustrated Thesaurus. On another spread, the verso reviews books on accounting and moonlighting jobs, while the recto bears an article in which people tell the story of a community credit union they founded. Another pair of pages depict and discuss different kayaks, inflatable dinghies, and houseboats.

The broad interpretation of "tool" coincided with that given by the designer, philosopher, and engineer Wikipedia:Buckminster Fuller, though another thinker admired by Brand and some of his cohorts was Wikipedia:Lewis Mumford, who had written about words as tools. Early editions reflected the considerable influence of Fuller, particularly his teachings about "whole systems," "synergetics," and efficiency or reducing waste. By 1971, Brand and his co-workers were already questioning whether Fuller’s sense of direction might be too anthropocentric. New information arising in fields like ecology and biospherics was persuasive.

Looking back and discussing attitudes evident in the early editions of the catalog, Brand wrote, “At a time when the Wikipedia:New Left was calling for grass-roots political (i.e., referred) power, Whole Earth eschewed politics and pushed grass-roots direct power—tools and skills.” (Winter 1998 edition of the Whole Earth Catalog, p. 3)

By the mid-1970s, much of the viewpoint of Wikipedia:E. F. Schumacher had been more widely disseminated, including what he himself, in 1955, perhaps playfully dubbed Buddhist economics. The ideas of the biological species preservationists had spread. Still later, the amiable-architecture ideas of people like Wikipedia:Christopher Alexander and similar community-planning ideas of people like Wikipedia:Peter Calthorpe gained an audience. Buckminster Fuller's ideas could be seen as possessing an engineering-efficiency tone in comparison.

As an early indicator of the general zeitgeist of the times, the catalog's first edition preceded the original Earth Day by nearly two years. The idea of Earth Day occurred to Senator Gaylord Nelson, its instigator, "in the summer of 1969 while on a conservation speaking tour out west," where the Sierra Club was active, and where young minds had been broadened and stimulated by such influences as the catalog.

Gurney Norman's Appalachian epic "Divine Right's Trip" first appeared in The Last Whole Earth Catalog in 1971. The complete novel was printed in its margins.

Despite this popular and critical success, particularly among a generation of young hippies and survivalists, the catalog was not intended to continue in publication for long, just long enough for the editors to complete a good overview of the available tools and resources, and for the word, and copies, to get out to everyone who needed them.

In the early 1970s, Brand recast his philosophy, from one emphasizing individualism to one favoring community instead. He had originally written that "a realm of intimate, personal power is developing." But now Brand disavowed the individual's right or need to radically "shape his own environment," since living with Earth's natural systems is something we do in common, interactively.

Steve Jobs compared The Whole Earth Catalog to Internet search engine Google in his June 2005 Stanford University Wikipedia:commencement speech. "When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation.... It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along. It was idealistic and overflowing with neat tools and great notions." During the commencement speech, Jobs also quoted the farewell message placed on the back cover of the 1974 edition of the catalog: "Stay hungry, stay foolish."[6] Conspicuous by its absence was any mention by Big Jobs of how Whole Earth Catalogs' cooperation with the CIA might compare with Googlesofmoney.

Spin-offs Edit

In 1978, a store called Whole Earth Access opened in Wikipedia:Berkeley, California, which sold a variety of things: tools, furniture, cameras, electronic devices, clothing. Branch stores in Wikipedia:San Mateo, San Jose, and Wikipedia:San Rafael soon followed. This business thrived into the 1990s but eventually succumbed to competition from more specialized retailers, established Wikipedia:department stores, and national chains of Wikipedia:discount stores. There is still a Website for Whole Earth Access, which offers a few items for sale directly over the Internet and refers to stores that no longer exist; it is apparently unmaintained. (The Website has a disclaimer stating that none of the featured items are actually for sale, but if you want a Website designed, you can contact the designer.)[1]

In the 1970, a store named Whole Earth Provision Co. opened in Wikipedia:Austin, Texas to offer books reviewed in the Whole Earth Catalog. It added some camping gear which grew to a full line of equipment needed for back-country adventure and worldwide trekking, now similar to what you'd find at Wikipedia:REI. Outerwear and other clothing became departments of their own and evolved to "lifestyle" clothing that appeals to value conscious young people and upscale buyers. Boots grew into a shoe department that may be the store's largest at this point, and departments were added along the way for clothing accessories, books with particular appeal to the store's customers, and a unique group of toys, games, and fun things mostly for children but also of interest to adults. The chain of six stores is thriving with 3 locations in Austin and one each in Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas. The web site at is out of date and does not offer merchandise, but it has a little bit of information, a way to find the stores, and a way to sign up for a mailing list to get postcards by snail mail. Most products are national brands and prices are retail, but when you go to the stores you still feel the influence of genuine "green" and holistic concerns and a bit of counter-culture flavor. The roots in the Catalog are still apparent.

See alsoEdit


Wikipedia:Stewart Brand and The Whole Earth Catalog are both subjects of interest to scholars. Notable examples include works by Theodore Roszak, Wikipedia:Howard Rheingold, Fred Turner, Wikipedia:John Markoff, Andrew Kirk, and Sam Binkley. The Stanford University Library System has a Whole Earth archive in their Department of Special Collections.[7]

Further readingEdit

Citations Edit

  1. Template:Cite book
  2. Chicago U
  3. Andrew Kirk. Counterculture Green. (Lawrence: Univ. of Kansas, 2007):48.
  4. John Markoff. What the Doormouse Said," (New York, Penugin):154.
  5. Kevin Kelly: The Whole Earth Blogalog September 17, 2008
  6. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Jobs
  7. Guide to the Whole Earth Catalog Records, 1969–1986 (bulk 1974–1980), CD Lib, 

External links Edit

Template:Whole Earth