Kit Houses

National 1


Unloading Box Cars, B & O Railroad, c. 1920-1950. Photograph courtesy of Theodor Horvdczak Collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Collection.

The story of twentieth-century architecture begins with late nineteenth-century advances. The Second Industrial Revolution (1870-1914) brought innovation to nearly every sector—manufacturing, transportation, construction, communications, and media. Ideas and products spread rapidly across the country, and a growing middle class eagerly embraced them. Thanks to the standardization of parts and assembly-line production, goods became less expensive to produce—and therefore to buy. An expanding railroad network, which stretched coast-to-coast by 1915, supported a national market for raw materials and finished goods.


Rural Free Delivery Vehicle, c. 1905. Photograph courtesy of Popular Mechanics.




By the early 1900s, universal mail delivery began to open untapped markets. Implementation of Rural Free Delivery, established by legislation in 1896, initially stalled as local retailers pushed back, fearful of competition from large catalog retailers like Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck & Company. The two catalog behemoths had been delivering their encyclopedic catalogs to urban households since the late 1800s.



Ladies’ Home Journal , 1921-10, Volume 38. Courtesy of Hearst Magazines, a Division of Hearst Communications Inc.




Now brochures, catalogs, advertisements, and newspapers could reach rural homes, as well, creating a consumer culture eager to purchase the latest in personal and household items. While newspapers and magazines were media outlets for kit house companies, most of their advertising was through catalogs mailed directly to consumers or magazines. Lifestyle magazines like The Ladies’ Home Journal and House Beautiful offered visions of the American Dream for homeowners with articles and advertisements on interior design, architecture, cooking, gardening, and other domestic topics. House Beautiful operated an in-house Home Builders’ Service Bureau, as well.



House Beautiful Magazine, March 1928