Metal Homes Capture Optimism Of 1950s U.S.A.

Years ago when my daughter was younger we headed to Dearborn, Michigan to visit The Henry Ford Museum. Although plenty of interesting, historical items are on display, one I found most interesting was a prefab, metal home built in the late 1940s: The Dymaxion House.

As if being metal was not a unique enough feature, the home was also round.

The home was one of several efforts by U.S. companies to make housing more affordable for Americans — and to cash in on the housing shortage. In a 2001 New York Times article discussing the Ford Museum acquiring a prototype of the home they report,

The Dymaxion has about 1,000 square feet of floor space, but weighs under three tons. Though mass production never came to be, Fuller’s intention was to ship the 3,000 major parts in a steel cylinder. Ten laborers were to put the house together in two days with the help of a crane, for a total cost of $6,500 — about the same as a Cadillac.

But, the home was never produced, in part because investors could not raise the capital needed to move into full production.

The story went a little better for another prefab metal home company. Lustron homes, built in Columbus, Ohio, had investors hoping to turn the city into the Detroit of the housing market. But, it too would fail, despite positive press, a converted airplane factory and about $15 million in funds. The company produced around 2,600 homes beginning in 1948 before going bankrupt in 1950. Sixty-eight of the 1,500 homes still in existence are highlighted in a book by Cleveland photographer Charles Mintz.

Besides being manufactured entirely out of steel, the exterior of the Lustron home is enameled so its color is forever locked in. The homes were available in four or five colors, including pink.

To learn more about the pre-fab home experiment after WWII read, The Lustron Home: The History of a Postwar Prefabricated Housing Experiment by Thomas Fetters.

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Categories: American History, Ohio History

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