The House America’s Been Waiting For…
Story by Rosemary Thornton
Contributing editor, The Old House Web
Never before in America a House Like This, read the 1949 Lustron advertisement in that venerable chronicle of American life, The Saturday Evening Post. Nor, as it turns out, was there ever again a house like the Lustron.
Constructed entirely of steel, the modest ranches were entrepreneur Carl Strandlund’s answer to the severe housing shortage plagued the country at the end of World War II.
But Strandlund’s Lustron Company produced just 2,500 of these homes of the future, before declaring bankruptcy in 1950. A half century later, speculation about the events leading to the demise of the company remains.
Were Strandlund’s homes too far-fetched and expensive to be commercially profitable, as the government claimed when it called in $12.5 million of loans and forced the company into bankruptcy? Or was the Lustron Home the victim of political ambitions and trade union greed as a film by Bill Kubota, Ed Moore and Bill Ferehawk suggests?
Whatever the reason for the Lustron Company’s failure, the claims of durability and ease of maintenance of the steel homes have stood the test of time. Many of the Lustron homes left standing after 50 years still bear their original siding and roofs as well as many inside features such as built-in cabinets.
Because of the war and the 12-year depression preceding it, very few new homes had been built since 1929, resulting in a severe housing shortage for soldiers returning from WWII. The federal government quickly passed legislation banning non-essential construction so that all materials and labor could be diverted to the immediate need of supplying new housing.
The watchwords of this postwar time were science, technology and know-how. It was inevitable that the hunger for new technologies and scientific ways would hit the architectural scene and create a radically new house.
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