Monday, November 9, 2015

When did Sears first start offering houses with pre-cut lumber?

One of the commonly quoted dates about Sears houses is that Sears first started offering homes with pre-cut lumber in 1916. Kit house researcher Rebecca Hunter was quoted in this article from 2006 outlining the timeline of when this first happened:
"Hunter said Sears didn't start marketing precut homes or "kits" until 1916. From 1908 to 1915, they provided plans and materials, but nothing was cut to size. So early Sears mail-order homes carry no part numbers on the materials." 
Researchers generally point to the 1916 Sears Modern Homes catalog as the first advertisement for houses with pre-cut lumber.

In that catalog, Sears trumpeted the benefits of pre-cut lumber with pages like this:

Image from 1916 Sears Modern Homes catalog
Image courtesy of Antique Home

Sears demonstrated how their kit houses could be assembled with pre-cut lumber with no need for a saw.

Image from 1916 Sears Modern Homes catalog
Image courtesy of Antique Home

While pre-cut lumber was a new innovation for Sears, it was old news in the kit house world. Aladdin, the first to start selling kit houses in 1906, had always sold its houses with pre-cut lumber, a fact that Aladdin made sure to highlight in its advertisements when "Johnny-come-lately" competitors started to do the same.

Recently, I came across a newspaper ad from October 1915 in the Delaware County Daily Times (Chester, Pennsylvania) for Sears advertising a house with pre-cut lumber.

As you can see from this ad, Sears noted that "[A]ll of the material comes to you already cut and fitted." Or as Sears also put it "JUST NAIL IT TOGETHER"! This particular house, the No. 107B, was also available in the 1916 catalog. 

Catalog image of Sears 107B (1916)
Image courtesy of Antique Home

In the 1916 catalog, $372.00 would get you the 107B the same way that Sears had provided its mail order catalog homes since it started in 1908, with none of the material pre-cut. For an extra $27.00, Sears would provide the material "cut and fitted". According to the catalog, this would allow you to build the house "without expert labor"! Note that the 107B, whether you selected already cut and fitted or not cut or fitted, did not come with a bathroom! The 107B wasn't the only model in 1916 to be offered as either "pre-cut" or "not cut or fitted". In the years to come, Sears would continue to offer customer the choice between pre-cut and not cut or fitted with a price discount for those customers who chose not to go the pre-cut route. Even after Sears debuted their pre-cut homes, some models continued to be offered without a pre-cut option. 

We now know that the answer to the question of "When did Sears first start offering houses with pre-cut lumber" is at least as early as 1915. But 1916 is still a good answer too as it refects the first year when pre-cut houses appeared in the Modern Homes catalog.  Apparently, Sears decided to start marketing their pre-cut homes in the newspapers in late 1915 in advance of the 1916 catalog. Now that we know that ads for pre-cut homes date back as early as October 1915, we can look for other examples from the same time frame.  


  1. Thanks, Andrew! The precise date that Sears began selling pre-cut lumber is an important one because then we know when it might be possible to find marked lumber in the basement of a purported Sears house.

    Sears Homes of Chicagoland

  2. Another bit of great research!