In the 1916 Modern Homes catalog, Sears offered a new product: Goodwall Sheet Plaster. It was promoted as being far better than traditional plaster, which involved a painstaking, labor-intensive process of nailing up thousands of pieces of wood lath (small, thin wood strips), and then applying three heavy coats of plaster (brown coat, scratch coat and finish coat).
Applying the plaster was no small ordeal, as it had to be mixed on site and then applied in stages, with adequate drying time between each coat. Animal hair (horse hair but more commonly cattle hair) was used as a binding agent. If you take a piece of old plaster and examine it closely, you’ll find tiny bits of hair mixed into it. (Old building material catalogs sold cattle hair specifically for this purpose.)
The quality of the plaster in your old house today depends largely on the quality of the weather immediately following the application of that plaster. If it was cold and rainy, your plaster may not have been as long-lasting as if it’d had been a warm sunny low-humidity day.
Goodwall Sheet Plaster was an early sheetrock product and could be nailed directly to the studs, foregoing all the trouble (and expense) of nailing up 12 billion linear feet of pine lath.
Last night, someone wrote me an email asking if Goodwall Sheet Plaster had asbestos, I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV (but I am married to one). Based on my reading of Sears promotional literature, I’d say there is no asbestos in Goodwall Sheet plaster. It was fireproof, but that’s because it had gypsum, which is a naturally fireproof.
Products of the early 1900s that contained asbestos (a fireproof mineral) were heavily advertised and promoted as such. Fire was such an omnipresent hazard in early 20th Century communities, that if anything was fireproof or even fire-resistant, it would be mentioned in promotional literature. And if you read all the language in the ads for Goodwall Sheet Plaster, you’ll see there’s no mention of asbestos content. And why add asbestos to a product that is already fireproof?
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