How a Catalog Changed the Home Industry

Mar 11, 2009 |  by  |  Craftsman Archives  |  Share

1920 3058 How a Catalog Changed the Home IndustryBack in 1908 Sears Roebuck and Company began their Modern Homes program. Basically, you’d get a catalog in the mail, choose the home you want, customize it to your liking, then you’d drive to the train station where your kit home was delivered – from precut lumber right down to the nails. You were good to go, and with the help of family and friends you could literally build your own home. Over 32 years, 447 different plans were offered, and if you glance through their collection you can see how their overall home designs changed over time. Naturally, selling homes was a great lead in to pitching other Sears products such as appliances, furniture, fixtures and so on. The whole plan was a brilliant idea, evidenced by the sale of over 70,000 mail order homes in that 32 year span.

So what happened to the Modern Homes program? Well, apparently Sears got a little loose with their home loan policies (which they began in 1911) and once the depression hit in 1929, Sears found themselves in over their head with over $5 million in mortgage loan debt. Sounds strangely familiar, doesn’t it? By 1935 they dropped their financing options and five years later the program was canned. Still, to this day taking a casual stroll down any number of historic neighborhoods across the U.S. could¬† result in catching a glimpse of a home that jumped right off the page of a catalog back in the early 1900’s. And if you’re truly lucky, you may be the proud owner of one of these homes and not even know it.

You can view over 100 catalog homes via the Sears Archives and then hop on over to The Arts and Crafts Society to view their collection.

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