Mail Order Plans and Kit Houses – Part 1

Most people have heard of Sears catalog and kit houses, which were popular in the early 20th century, but many are unaware of the numerous other businesses which sold essentially the same product.   These competing businesses routinely adapted each other’s work or simply flat out stole from each other.  Many designs were reversed, perhaps in an effort to make the the source less obvious, but frequently at the customer’s request. Houses built from kits or mail order plans can be found all across the country.  Not surprisingly, the kit houses typically appear in towns which were either on a railroad or had a railroad spur while houses built from mail order plans could crop up just about anywhere.

Kit houses faded from popularity by the 1980’s but plan books themselves remain popular today.  Below are four catalog designs from the early 20th century paired with photos of existing homes built from them (or from a similar competing design).  Historic images are courtesy of the Internet Archive.

 

Radford Design No.517 as it appears in their 1903 catalog.

 

 

This house was built in reverse from the design shown above.

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A Wardway advertisement c. 1930.

 

This kit house was marketed as both “The Mayflower” and “The Mount Vernon” by Wardway (Montgomery Ward’s answer to Sears’ houses) and “The Stratford” by the Gordon-Van Tine company (which supplied Montgomery Ward with their kit houses).

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Radford Design No.517 as it appears in their 1903 catalog.

 

Built in reverse, this is Radford’s Design No. 517.

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Radford’s Design No. 19 as shown in their catalog.

 

 

Design No. 19 as published by Radford, with some alterations.

 

The same plan again, though this house built with a more shallow roof pitch. The iron porch supports and fretwork beneath the eaves were later alterations.

 

 

 

4 Responses to Mail Order Plans and Kit Houses – Part 1

  1. Very cool! I always enjoy seeing extant homes compared to their original plans.

    I find it interesting how many people have the misconception that Sears was the only kit home seller, or even marketer of plans. The big mail-order stores really just picked up the already-popular trend of mail-order blueprints and took it one step further.

    I have reprints of several old plan books, which I enjoy reading. It does make me wish I could still order full blueprints, but those are much harder to find.

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