From 1908-1940, Sears sold houses by mail order. These 30,000-piece kits came with a 75-page instruction book that told the wanna-be homeowner how to put it all together. Sears promised that a “man of average abilities” could have it 100% complete in 90 days. Sears offered 370 designs, including foursquares, cape cods, neo-tudors, trailing edge Victorians, Colonials and more.
The specialty catalogs – devoted to “Modern Homes” – averaged about 100 pages with the peak being 1924, when the catalog hit 140 pages, with 100 designs. These “Sears Modern Homes” catalogs can now be found on eBay for a variety of prices.
And these really were modern homes. Think about this. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her “Little House” books describing life on the plains in the 1870s and 1880s. She talked about living in a soddie – a house made with dirt blocks – and waking up to find frost on her comforter.
At the turn of the 20th Century, American architecture evolved very quickly. We went from living in tiny cabins and soddies (sans lights, central heat and indoor plumbing) to these sweet little bungalows with three bedrooms, a full bathroom, and a kitchen – wired for electricity!
In fact, sometimes these mail-order homes were more modern than the communities in which they were sold.
And that’s why the plumbing and electrical fixtures were NOT part of the kit home, but were purchased separately. If electrical service and municipal water systems were not available in your community, you wouldn’t need to spend money on the plumbing and electrical supplies!
In the back pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalogs, this little jewel was offered:
The Sears Modern Homes department closed their doors in 1940. During a corporate house-cleaning after WW2, all sales records, blueprints, ephemera and other items were destroyed. The only way to find these 75,000 kit homes today is literally, one by one.
To learn more, buy Rose’s book, The Houses That Sears Built.