The Sears House
A Brief History
The enormous influence of the railroad is once again felt in the popularity of kit homes sold through the Sears and Roebuck Company. From 1908 through 1940 over 70,000 "Sears Catalog Homes" aka "Sears Modern Homes" were sold in North America.
The houses were ordered out of a catalog with all the materials shipped via train to wherever they were going. Richard Sears used to work as a railroad station manager and used the experience to help invent the mail-order business. In this case, the product was entire homes. Aladdin Homes started a similar business in 1906 but Sears had an edge since their catalogs were already being delivered to people's homes since the 1890's.
Although they were called "Modern Homes" many of the plans depict renditions of earlier period house types. The once seen below features a Victorian style tower and some Greek Revival influences on the porch columns, roof eaves, and temple triangle above the front steps. The plans for this one called for three bedrooms, one bath, kitchen, dining room, parlor and two closets. The price was $823 not including labor, cement, brick or plaster. Sears estimated the whole thing could be built for $1584.
Credit for spurring sales in the Sears kit house business goes to Frank W. Kushel, a company manager tasked with ramping up the firm's unprofitable building materials division. He suggested the company try to sell entire houses in 22 styles with prices ranging from $650 - $2500. The idea was so successful Sears bought a lumber mill in Southern Illinois to provide the materials. A kit usually consisted of 25 tons of materials and 30,000 parts. Below is a 1913 rendition of a two bedroom, $975 bungalow.
As the American home evolved, so did the Sears homes. The kits typically didn't includes plumbing or electrical fixtures but they could be purchased separately - from the Sears catalog. Sears offered mortgage financing, heating systems, and assembly instructions. Drywall was eventually provided, along with asphalt shingles. Sales reached a peak in 1929 but as building codes became more complex sales tapered off. Below is a listing for a Sears version, four bedroom Dutch Colonial for $1569.
Many Sears homes have survived the years with large tracts of them in places like Arlington, Virginia, Aurora, Illinois, and Bucksport, Maine. Standard Oil bought a million dollars worth of Sears homes to house mineworkers in Carlinville, Illinois. Do you think you live in Sears home? Here's
about how to find out.
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