|Resource: Digital Resource Library of IL|
Imagine looking through a Sears catalog, picking out a home you’d like to live in, then ordering it. That’s essentially how many people in the early 20th Century came to be first-time homeowners.
According to the Digital Research Library of Illinois History, "from 1908 until 1940, Sears, Roebuck, and Co. sold about 100,000 homes, not including cabins, cottages, garages, outhouses, and farm buildings, through their mail-order Modern Homes program. Over that time, Sears designed 447 different housing styles, from the elaborate multistory Ivanhoe, with its elegant French doors and art glass windows, to the simpler Goldenrod, which served as a quaint, three-room and no-bath cottage for summer vacationers. (An outhouse could be purchased separately for Goldenrod and similar cottage dwellers.) Customers could choose a house to suit their individual tastes and budgets."
Of course, Sears didn’t ship them the home already built. All the building materials came in a kit, by rail, truck, or even a boat. Then, if the new owner was handy with a hammer he could put it together himself or hire a carpenter to do the job. These were not prefab homes, which come partially assembled.
|Resource: Digital Research Library|
Photo Resource for both images: Sears-Homes.com
Many of these homes are still standing today, which is a testament to their quality. Above is a bungalow located in the Chicago area that was built from a Sears kit. the top photo is how it appears today and the picture below it is the rendition of the kit as it appeared in the catalog. The home remains with descendants of the original family who ordered the kit around 100 years ago and built the house.
Here are a couple more examples of homes featured in the Sears catalogs.
When I was growing up in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, my family lived in a small rented bungalow. I can’t help but wonder if our home wasn’t a Sears kit, or perhaps the builder borrowed the house plan from Sears and tweaked it a bit. The home had the same basic layout as the small bungalow homes Sears offered—Front porch, living room, kitchen, two bedrooms, and a bathroom. By the time we lived in the house, the front porch had been enclosed and we used it as a three-season room.
Our house did have indoor plumbing and a basement you accessed through a trapdoor in the floor near the side entrance at the back of the house.
The kits were produced in the factory and all the parts fit together much like a puzzle. (Think IKEA if you've purchased furniture from there). Even nails and varnishes were included. If one was an accomplished carpenter, he could easily build the house himself if he had the time. Even though the parts were already cut to plan at the factory, the owner had the opportunity during the build to put his stamp on the design by adding elements to the exterior to avoid the “cookie cutter” effect of every house on the block looking just like the ones on either side.
There are several copies of “Sears Honor-Bilt Modern Homes" catalogs online that you can access and “leaf” through. Click here to link to one of the catalogs. Most of the designs are traditional in style, from Dutch Colonials to New England Colonials. But I spotted a few with a Mediterranean or Spanish flair.
More background and interesting info on the home kits can be found here
Were you familiar with Sears Kit Houses before you read this article? Have you lived in one? Please share your stories in the comments!
Pamela S. Meyers lives in northern Illinois with her two rescue cats, but her heart will always remain in her hometown of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. She writes historical fiction set right there and you can read about them at www.pamelasmeyers.com or look for her books on Amazon.