Richard Warren Sears – my hero and a merchandising genius – decided that the best way to sell more of the stuff in his 100,000-item, 1400-page catalog was to sell kit homes. In the first years of the 20th Century, multi-generational households were the norm, and Sears knew that getting people into a home of their own would create new customers and also create new demand for household products.
In 1908, a little ad appeared on page 594 of the Sears general merchandise catalog. It read, “Let us be your architect, without cost to you.” Interested buyers were invited to write in and request free specialty catalog of house plans. The first houses ranged in price from $500 to $5000.
And so it was that Richard Warren Sears entered into the kit house business. The mail-order homes were shipped by boxcar and came in 30,000 piece kits. Sears promised that a man of average abilities could have one assembled and ready for occupancy in 90 days.
The house were called “Sears Modern Homes.” And they really were modern homes.
In 1917, American Carpenter and Builder Magazine reported that “watertight roof, walls and floor are an essential feature of a modern city house.” As a point of reference, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books described life on the plains in soddies and tiny cabins in the 1870s.
It’s possible that the Midwestern men and women who built Sears kit homes in the early 1900s could have been raised in housing that would be considered extremely primitive by today’s standards.
Below is a picture of a soddie. These were very primitive and damp and dank and fairly miserable way to spend the day, nine months out of the year. One look at this photo (below) and you can understand why a pretty little Sears bungalow would be classified as a “Modern Home.”
To learn more about these Modern Homes, click here.