By Jolene Hawkins
Looking back to when all of our wishes and whims could be found within the pages of a Sears and Roebuck catalog.
Everything from a new camera, to a grand piano, to medical supplies, to hammerless revolvers, to traveling bags to a six-hole steel range stove, to monuments for your loved ones in the graveyard — you can see examples of these at Maplewood cemetery here in Springville — carriages and cars and even houses. We have a few of these houses still standing and being used here in our little village of Springville.
In 1906, Frank W. Kushel was a Sears manager, and he is credited with given the suggestion to Richard Sears to sell kit homes through the catalog. The Aladdin Company of Bay City, Mich., offered the first Kit Home through mail order.
In 1908, Sears issued its first specialty catalog for houses, featuring 44 house styles and prices ranging from $360 to $2,890. Wages at the time were from 22 cents to 60 cents an hour, a pound of sugar was 4 cents, a pound of coffee was 15 cents and eggs were 14 cents a dozen to give you an idea of prices then.
The homes had so many features, some had two bedrooms and some four, you could get a cobblestone foundation, a front porch and even a screened-in porch.
To meet the needs of the demand of sales, Sear purchased a lumber mill in Cairo, Ill., and a second mill in Port Newark, N.J. They also purchased the Nashwood Sash and Door Company in Norwood, Ohio.
With the ability to mass produce the material used in the kit houses and reduce the manufacturing cost, this allowed Sears to pass those savings along to the customers.
In, 1910 the kit homes now included gas and eclectic fixtures. And by 1912, Sears began offering financing plans. Early loans were for 5 to 15 years at a rate of 6 to 7 percent interest.
The entire home would arrive by railroad on a boxcar. Precut lumber (all numbered) 10,000 to 30,000 pieces, 750 pounds of nails, carved staircases, the varnish needed, pedestal sinks for the bathroom, kitchen sinks, plumbing, electrical wiring and lights were included along with a 75 page instruction book, window trim, clapboards, fascia and soffit, yellow pine for framing. The kitchen and bathroom floors were solid maple, tongue and grove, and sometimes you could even get a work crew provided through Sears and Roebuck to put it up.
If not, family and friends would help in what was considered a house raising. They were one of the first mass builders to utilize “balloon” style framing which only requires one carpenter on site, as well as using drywalls for walls, asphalt shingles for the roof and central heating. These advanced building materials made for modern homes that were less expensive to build and safer to live in.
By 1923, Sears expanded its line to reflect the growing demand for rural customers for ready-made buildings. They introduced a new specialty catalog, Modern Farm Buildings and Barns.
The barn catalog boasted “a big variety of scientifically planned” farm buildings, from corncribs to tool sheds. The simple durable and easy way it was to construct a Sears farm buildings made them particularly attractive to farmers.
Sears estimated that, for a precut kit house with fitted pieces, it would take only 352 hours opposed to the 583 hours for a conventional house, a 40 percent reduction in time and work.
Do you remember the Sears and Roebuck catalog with Kit Homes for sale? Did you know of someone who had one of those homes or lived near one? Do you have a picture of one of those homes pre- or post-build? We’d love to hear about it!
Be sure to stop by the Lucy Bensley Center and show us on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 592-0094.