Modular Home / Manufactured Home Industry History

Building System Magazine, March 2003

Building systems actually pre-date traditional site or "stick" building, which got its start in 1833 with the invention of the circular mill saw and mass-produced nails. Back in the 17th century, the lack of usable timber in the northern areas of Russia lead to builders producing post and beam wall panels and shipping them north by horse-drawn wagons.

In the United States, the first systems built homes were constructed in factories in the 1890's by companies such Alladin Homes, The Hodgson Company and Montgomery Ward. These companies sold their homes through mail-order catalogs between 1895 and 1920.

But soon, these companies' housing production was dwarfed by catalog giant Sears & Roebuck Company, which started offering mail-order homes in 1908. Prices ranged from $500 for a simple cottage to $3,000 for a 10-room luxury model. Home packages, which arrived by train, included a 75-page instruction manual for contractors. Over the next 30 years, Sears employed thousands of factory workers and sold more than 100,000 of the homes, many of which are still in use today in the Midwest and Northeast. Although Sears dropped the homes from it's catalog in 1937, the industry was firmly established and builders continued to centralize the assembly of homes and then ship them to the building site for final turnkey.

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