Housing is one of the most persistent challenges faced by the construction industry, and over the course of decades certain trends rise and fall, as entrepreneurial housing providers carve out new niches to provide for expanding populations and changing demographics. Originally published by BuzzBuzzHome as "The Rise and Fall of The Mail-Order House," this article explores the craze of so-called "catalogue homes" - flat-packed houses that were delivered by mail - which became popular in North America in the first decades of the 20th century.
The testimonials make it sound effortless: building your own house is no sweat.
In the front pages of a 1921 Sears Roebuck catalogue for mail-order homes, a resident of Traverse City, Michigan identified only by the pseudonym “I Did Not Hire Any Help” wrote to the company: “I am very well pleased with my Already Cut House bought off you. All the material went together nicely. In fact, I wish I had another house to put up this summer. I really enjoyed working on such a building, and I do not follow the carpenter trade either.” It’s estimated that more than 100,000 mail-order homes were built in the United States between 1908 and 1940. It was the IKEA of housing, but instead of spending an afternoon putting together a bookshelf, buyers would take on the formidable task of building a house. Or, more commonly, get a contractor to do it. Homebuyers would pick a design of their choice out of a mail-order catalogue and the materials – from the lumber frame boards to the paint to the nails and screws – would be shipped out to the closest railway station for pickup and construction.