Sunday, August 05, 2012

Sears Houses

Sears Catalog Homes (sold as Sears Modern Homes) were ready-to-assemble houses sold through mail order by Sears Roebuck and Company, an American retailer. Over 70,000 of these were sold in North America between 1908 and 1940. Shipped via railroad boxcars, these kits included all the materials needed to build an exceptionally sturdy and well designed house. Many were assembled by the new homeowner and friends, relatives, and neighbors, in a fashion similar to the traditional barn-raisings of farming families.

Photo: Cunningham House (Milton, Caswell County, North Carolina).

Sears helped popularize the latest technology available to house buyers in the early part of the twentieth century. Central heating, indoor plumbing, and electricity were all new developments in house design that "Modern Homes" incorporated, although not all of the houses were designed with these conveniences. Central heating, for example, not only improved the livability of houses with little insulation but also improved fire safety, a worry in an era when open flames threatened houses and even entire cities, as in the Great Chicago Fire (1871).

As demand decreased, Sears expanded the product line to feature houses that varied in expense to meet the budgets of various buyers. Sears began offering financing plans in the 1920s. However, the company experienced steadily rising payment defaults throughout the Great Depression, resulting in increasing strain for the catalog house program. Over the program's 32-year history, 447 different house models were offered. The mortgage portion of the program was discontinued in 1934; the entire program ceased altogether in 1940.

Today, some communities across the United States feature clusters of the houses as unofficial historical sites, although the vast majority are still used as private residences. Popular with restorers of older homes, Sears houses are sought for having craftsmanship better than that of the average non-Sears house built at the same time. A culture of Sears Modern Home seekers has emerged in recent years, as individual buildings have been identified.

Source: Sears Houses

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