BRYAN COUNTY HISTORY: Ordering a home from Sears

Bryan County Genealogy Library

Imagine the excitement of a young family waiting anxiously at the railroad depot in 1914 for the arrival of their dream home. Ordered from the Sears catalog, the Hamilton model promised to meet their needs at a price they could afford- just $2,065. It had a kitchen, dining room, parlor, and living room downstairs. Upstairs were four bedrooms and an optional bathroom. Best of all, it could be built quickly and efficiently without hiring a large construction crew. The typical time required to build a pre-cut house was 40% less than standard construction methods.

Of course, the Hamilton didn’t arrive standing up on a flat car. It arrived in thousands of pieces, shipped in separate loads as each phase of construction was completed. The first shipment included the framing materials, nails, and an instruction book (up to 75 pages) embossed with the owner’s name in gold. Later shipments included everything from the kitchen sink to the light fixtures. Bathrooms were usually optional, but customers could order a kit for an outhouse. About 10,000 to 30,000 pieces were needed to construct a Sears home. They made it as easy as possible by labeling most pieces with a number code.

Between 1908 and 1940 Sears sold over 75,000 pre-cut homes and provided everything from the floor plan to the mortgage. They sold three lines: Honor Bilt was the most expensive; Standard Bilt was best for warmer climates; Simplex Sectional included small summer cottages, out buildings, and barns. Sears sold 447 home designs, ranging from the multi-storied Ivanhoe to the 3-room Goldenrod. Prices in 1926 ranged from the Franklin at $595 and to the Magnolia at $5,000. During May of 1926 Sears shipped out 324 kits. Sears also had specialty catalogs, including the “Modern Farm Buildings and Barn”.

Sears accepted sketches and floor plans from creative customers who wanted to design their own buildings. Sears turned the sketches into floor plans and pre-cut all the parts. Sears stayed abreast of innovations (such as drywall and asphalt shingles) in the construction industry. Plans in later years included central heating, indoor plumbing, and electricity.

A Sears home built in Chelsea, Oklahoma in 1912 was the first shipped to Oklahoma and the first constructed west of the Mississippi according to its application for the National Register of Historic Places.

In the East and Midwest there were neighborhoods of Sears homes built as summer retreats or housing for large groups of workers. Standard Oil ordered homes from the 1918 catalog for its coal mine employees in Carlinville, IL. Many are still in good shape and demand competitive prices. Some have been slightly remodeled.

If you suspect that your home was a Sears kit, there are some details to investigate that will help you authenticate it. First, verify that it was built during 1908-1940. Next, check the floor plan. Drawings and plans are available at searsarchives. com/homes for comparison. Next, look for number-coded lumber in the attic or basement. Look for “R” or “SR” on plumbing fixtures. Search exposed lumber for shipping labels with the company address: 925 Homan Ave., Chicago.

Montgomery Ward also offered a ready-cut home They sold about 30,000 homes, the “foursquare” being one of the most popular styles.

The Great Depression signaled the demise most of the mail order home dealers, who also carried mortgages on their homes.

Bryan County History is a weekly feature contributed by members of the Bryan County Genealogy Library and Archives in Calera. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group. Is there a historic event or topic you want to read about? Contact the library at P.O. Box 153, Calera, OK 74730.