The Surprising History of Modular Construction

Modular homes aren't a new form of construction, but lately builders and home owners are making this construction style very popular.  There's a reason why CustomSmart Homes chooses to build Nationwide modular homes for our customers.  Modular construction is efficient and inexpensive, and it gives our clients a unique way to design their homes.  A lot of people know about the efficiency of these homes, but there aren't too many people who know about the history of making modular homes.


In order to understand the history of modular homes you need to know about another popular home style: kit homes.  Kit housing could be considered the predecessor of modular homes.  Modular homes are built in sections at a factory and shipped to the building site for assembly, but kit homes were literally shipped piece by piece to customers.  Customers who ordered kit homes would receive every piece of material they need to build pre measured, cut, in order to make the building process faster. 

Kit homes and structures were very popular in American during the first half of the 20th century.  Some people believe that the Bennett Homes company was the first American company to specialize in kit and modular homes, but many historians believe that two other companies are the reason why kit homes (and eventually modular homes) became popular.

A Tale of Two Department Stores

The Aladdin Company was founded by two brothers in Bay City Michigan in 1906, and they were one of the first companies to pioneer selling kit homes and structures.  At the same time The Aladdin Company was selling their kit structures, the Sears department store was struggling with their building materials division. Frank W. Kushel was a Sears manager who was given the difficult task of managing the company's unprofitable building materials department.  Since there was a surplus in inventory, Kushel proposed the idea of making pre-made housing elements and shipping them to customers to make building homes easier 

In 1908 Sears issued the Book of Modern Homes and Building Plans, their first modular home catalog that featured 22 different homes.  Customers could purchase a home for as little as $650 to as much as $2,500, which amounts to about $15,388 and $58,187 in modern dollars.  Sears kit and modular homes came with technology like central heating, electricity, and indoor plumbing, so many home owners of the time had amenities that their surrounding neighbors didn't have.

The Aladdin Company was selling kit homes and garages since they began in 1906,but it took Sears a few years to get their home building business in order.  The Aladdin Company was one of the first companies to sell kit homes, but Sears was the company that improved upon them and made them popular.  Sears was already an established household name by the time they started selling their pre-fabricated homes, so they had more brand identity and customer loyalty than The Aladdin Company could ever hope to have. 

Both companies experience unprecedented success with their kit homes, but both experienced major losses once The Great Depression began.  Sears officially stopped selling their homes in 1940, and The Aladdin Company continued to sell them until they closed down in 1987.  Both companies made a lot of contributions to the world of home building.  Eventually industrialists and construction workers took the idea of kit building a step further by constructing homes in sections, and shipping them to building sites.  The two pioneering companies may not be building homes anymore, but their construction methods will never be forgotten.


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