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Historic Prefab: Sears Homes

Link to Historic Prefab: Sears Homes

(One of the ongoing features that we're adding to the blog: a look back at prefab coverage over the past few years. These historic homes seemed like a great place to start.)

Last May the Wall Street Journal featured an interesting article on the Sears homes and the people who are working to find and catalogue them. The homes are some of the country's very first prefabs:

"About 70,000 to 100,000 of them were sold through Sears catalogs from 1908 to 1940. Distressed that the houses are falling victim to the recent boom in teardowns and renovations, their fans are scouring neighborhoods across the country....

Precut houses ordered from a Sears catalog were shipped by boxcar in 30,000 pieces -- including shingles, nails and paint -- and assembled by a local carpenter or by the buyers themselves. Styles ranged from the elaborate, nearly $6,000 Magnolia, to the three-room, no-bath Goldenrod, sold in 1925 for $445. (Outhouses sold separately.)....

Sears also encouraged sales to families with steady wages but little in savings by financing up to 100% of some of the homes. But many homeowners were forced to default during the Depression, and sales came to an end in 1940.

The mail-order houses, many of which had big porches and were made from high-quality materials like early-growth cypress, were less expensive than architect-designed houses at the time, and were often all working-class people could afford. Because they were typically a family's first home -- and because they were often a do-it-yourself project for buyers -- the houses, enthusiasts say, are emblematic of the American dream.

It's difficult to know how many Sears homes are left. Sears doesn't have sales records, and while interest in catalog homes is growing, many people still don't know they are living in one...."

So, how can you tell? Read the article for details!

And check out the Sears Archives for more information on the Sears Homes.

Title: Historians and Fans Are Racing to Catalog Homes Sold by Sears
Author: Sara Schaefer Muñoz
Publication: Wall Street Journal
Length: 1200 words
Issue: May 15, 2006

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   4. Historic Prefab: How to identify a Sears Kit Home (Dec 17, 2007)
   5. Historic Prefab: Iron prefab for sale (Nov 02, 2007)
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2 comments, 0 trackbacks (URL) , 
Hmmmmm on July 26, 2007 at 6:32 p.m.
I have always looked at these homes as the first Pre-Fab. Thanks for the reminder.
Jennifer on August 28, 2007 at 6:31 p.m.
Ah, but Sears homes were not the first American prefabs by any means. New Orleans was making pre-cut heavy timber frame houses to ship to the West Indies throughout the 1700s. "Portable cottages" of pre-cut wood, wood panel, or corrugated iron panels were being shipped to California Gold Rush towns in the late 1840s. Take a look at Charles E. Peterson's "Early American Prefabrication" and Colin Davies' The Prefabricated Home. There's a lot more to the story!
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