Homes in a Box….When Sears Ruled Mail Order

Posted by in Alternative & Eco-Living | 8 comments

The Elsmore Kit Home from Sears - click on this image to see the full page.

The Elsmore Kit Home from Sears - click on this image to see the full page.

My obsession with home architecture and floor plans is a never-ending journey of research, fascination, and amazement. This is partly due to my love of history, especially anything nostalgic (a very subjective idea). Sears Roebuck fits that definition of nostalgia. There was a time when they ruled the mail order catalog business, sold good-quality items that no one else carried, and fulfilled a need for basic necessities. My how far they’ve fallen!

In researching small, green, cottage house plans, their name popped up in my Google search. I wasn’t surprised, for not only did they sell skates, clothing, gardening equipment, tractors, harnesses for work horses, and sod, they also sold kit home plans.

Sears Roebuck dates back to 1886 when Richard Sears began selling watches to supplement his income. A year later, he joined up with another watch-maker, Alvah Roebuck. A couple years after that, they launched their first catalog. But it wasn’t until 1908 that they began selling home kits. Why would they not? They sold just about everything that belonged in and around a house, might as well sell the whole house too!

Sears homes were truly kit homes, they would use existing home architecture (they weren’t reinventing the wheel), included precut lumber, fitted framing, and then ship all the construction elements by railroad to the new owner. Everything was included in the shipment, even the nails. Their designs were fabricated so that only one carpenter was needed to put the home together. It was called “Balloon Style” framing. Customers could order designs “as-is”, redesign a floor plan or combine a couple of the plans Sears offered, or draw up blueprints specifically to their needs and Sears would precut the lumber and supply all the materials needed. Homeowners were in complete control of their home design.   Sears wasn’t the first company to sell prefab homes, but they sold more than any other, about 100,000 over their 32 year span.

A real Sears Roebuck home in Libertyville, IL

A real Sears Roebuck home in Libertyville, IL

The last of the Sears Roebuck homes were sold in 1940. Unfortunately, their Modern Home program failed due to the Great Depression negatively affecting their home financing department (Does this sound familiar? Everything old is new again?!…housing bubble…). Yet, many of the Sears kit homes still stand today, particularly in Libertyville, IL. There are also many books dedicated to the floor plans Sears sold during its hey-day, including Homes in a Box: Modern Homes from Sears. Reconstructing the floor plans probably wouldn’t be that difficult for today’s prefab home builders.

I might have to look into purchasing or researching Sears kits home plans for sale.

Do you live in an area that is known for Sears Roebuck homes? Do you know anyone who lives in one of these homes? You may now be curious as to if your home is a Sears Roebuck Modern Home. If you are, use this link for further research, it’s a start.

8 Comments

Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. RainyDaySaver

    I’ve heard of these Sears kits — what a crazy idea! I don’t know if there are any in our area, though.
    .-= RainyDaySaver´s last blog ..Finally: Our Tax Refund Has Arrived =-.

  2. Money Beagle

    I love it! I had thought about being an architect for the longest time but I hated drafting and all that. Stuff like this really interests me so I was really intrigued by your article. You’d have to have a sharp eye, I think, to be able to spot a Sears home.
    .-= Money Beagle´s last blog ..Weekly Blog Roundup: April 9, 2010 =-.

  3. Little House

    @Rainy Day Saver – I’d love to see photos of Sears homes in other areas. I had a heck of a time hunting down real photos, ended up having to use Redfin and Bing arial maps. If you think you come across one, I’d love to see it! (all were built before 1940 and many were built around 1925).

    @Money Beagle – If I could go back in time, I think I would have chosen architecture as well. I love house designs. I think spotting one would be a little difficult, but if you know what year the house was built, it would give you an idea of if it could be Sears home.

  4. Susan Tiner

    This link from the Sears Archives is also helpful:
    http://www.searsarchives.com/homes/index.htm

  5. Amy

    [...] House in the Valley:  Homes in a Box….When Sears Ruled Mail Order - Great article, nice to see a one with a historical perspective.  I hope Walmart doesn’t [...]

  6. Lara

    Little House, My website features kit houses in the Chicago area, if you’re interested!
    Sears-homes.com

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  4. Little House in the Valley | Home Designs, Plans, and Ideas for Smaller Living - [...] Ward (remember them?) started selling their homes one year later in 1909. I wrote a post about the Sears …

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