Between 1908 to 1942, Sears, Roebuck, and Company sold more than 70,000 mail-order catalog homes in North America. Marketed under the name Sears Modern Homes, the houses offered the latest technology including central heating, indoor plumbing, and electricity. The houses were built primarily in East Coast and Midwest states, but Sears catalog homes have been located as far south as Florida and as far west as California.
You may already be aware of a Sears catalog home in your area. According to the Web site https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sears_Catalog_Home, Aurora, Illinois has 136. Carlinville, Illinois has 150 in the Standard Addition neighborhood. Downers Grove has 26 Sears homes. Elgin, Illinois has over 200. Washington, D.C. has over 200. Cincinnati, Ohio and surrounding communities in southern Ohio and Northern Kentucky have over 450.
The Sears catalog homes in Carlinville, Illinois were bought in bulk by the Standard Oil Company in 1918 to house their mineworkers. The homes were built in a twelve-block area known as the Standard Addition. Using eight different models, the 150 homes were built at a total cost of approximately $1 million.
Who thought of the idea of selling homes through mail-order catalogs? Credit is given to Frank W. Kusel, a Sears manager of the building materials department. Sales were down, and there was excess inventory in the warehouses. Kusel suggested to Richard Warren Sears that the company could assemble kits of the parts needed and sell entire houses through mail order.
The first Sears catalog houses sold prior to 1916 contained Sears-supplied lumber in approximate lengths, but the home builder had to cut the lumber to the exact length. In 1916, precut and fitted lumber was first offered. This reduced construction time by up to 40%. The Sears Modern Home kit was shipped by railroad boxcar and then usually trucked to the home site. According to the en.wikipedia.org article, an average kit had 25 tons of materials with over 30,000 parts. Plumbing, electrical fixtures, and heating systems were not included in the base price of the house. They could be included, at an additional cost, with the house order. The home builder was responsible for meeting local building requirements that certain work be done professionally.
Today, several of the Sears catalog houses are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Sears catalog houses can also be found in historic districts listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
—By Karen Centowski
To see a 2013 video about Sears Modern Homes, go to Sears Modern Homes YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKP2RTLkiTg.