Sears | Sears Modern Home | Modern Home Gallery | A Trip Through Sears, Roebuck & Co | Sears Catalog Gallery | Craftsman
When Sears first became a mass merchant king in 1895, they began selling building supplies. However, due to the non profitability, Sears seriously considered to close the department in 1906. At that time, Frank Kushel was chosen to figure out a way to liquidate the inventory and eliminate the department. While working out a plan, he noticed that the department was not successful due to the high costs in maintaining an inventory. Sears should just have this merchandise be shipped directly to the customer along with building plans. This idea paved the way for a new industry that resulted in the construction of almost 100,000 Sears Homes in a thirty year span. The first catalog was printed in 1908 (pictured), had 68 pages and listed about 44 home styles and one brick schoolhouse.
Between 1908 and 1940 Sears offered as many as 400 unique designs, although several can be hybrids of one another. It was common for owners/builders to improvise on the original design and even Sears renamed the same style if it was a frame or brick construction. Sears even offered to finance the purchase which, at the time, were typically for up to 15 years at about 7% interest.
The program peaked in 1929 when Sears sold more than $12 million in homes, while almost half being mortgage loans. In 1934 Sears liquidated $11 million in loans by discontinuing the mortgage portion and therefore started to phase out the Modern Home program which was completed in 1940. Another factor that lead to Sears to stop selling kit homes was more complex housing code changes slowed the demand for do-it-yourself home builders.
This special section of Chicagology will feature actual photos from a 1912 promotional booklet that contained hundreds of testimonials of satisfied owners (and builders) of the Sears kit home. Several of the letters included actual addresses as well as photos. Chicagology.com was able to obtain an almost complete copy – pages 9 through 94. Since the book was arranged alphabetically by state, only states Colorado through Pennsylvania are available and only the letters that included photos are part of the Gallery. The Index lists all the homes with photos. It is known that there are only a few copies of this booklet still exist.