You may have heard a rumor that your house was "bought by mail order." What does that mean, you might wonder? Or you might have noticed that there are twins of your house dotted around your neighborhood. Were all those twins built by the same company?
It might be that your house was built from a mail-order plan -- or it could be that your house was bought fom a mail-order company that supplied the plans and a complete set of building materials cut to size and ready to assemble. Mail-order houses like these are the ancestors of modern manufactured homes, but they were built on-site by carpenters using traditional techniques, just like architect-designed houses of the same historical period.
The websites below showcase archives of house plans from mail-order home companies. They show exterior views of each house (some in color), floor plans, and prices. Since most mail-order house companies also sold a multitude of cabinetry, fancy trim, plumbing and lighting fixtures, and furniture, you can sometimes get an idea for popular interior design of the period as well.
- Antique Home An extensive website showcasing images from house plan catalogs from many companies (including Portland's Fenner Manufacturing and H. M. Fancher), as welll as a wide variety of other old house ephemera. Recent additions to the site are featured in the Daily Bungalow blog.
- Antique Home Style Another large collection of reproductions of house plan catalogs and other helpful resources. Includes 1920 book of house plans published by the Portland Telegram newspaper, and a reproduction of an article from a 1925 issue of American Builder describing the development of Portland's Peacock Lane.
- Mid Century Home Style This collection focuses on the period 1937-1963, and includes a selection of reproductions of house plan books (including plans from Portland's Home Plan Building Service), and a whole host of advertisements and other lovely color images of house stuff from the mid-century period.
- Aladdin Company of Bay City House plan catalogs in digital format from the Aladdin Company, for the years 1908-1954. Many of the catalogs have color pictures. The site also includes a nice tutorial on researching the history of your own house. From the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University.
- Gordon-Van Tine A brief history of the Gordon-Van Tine company, with illustrations and modern-day photographs of houses they designed.
- Hodgson Houses A history of the E.F. Hodgson prefabricated house company, which specialized in camp houses, vacation houses, and livestock buildings such as dog kennels and poultry sheds.
- Images of Sears Homes Pictures from the Sears Modern Homes catalogs from the years 1908-1940. Most images include a floor plan and description of the house, as well as an illustration of what it was designed to look like from the outside. From the Sears Archives.
I should also remind you, the library has books with old mail-order floor plans in them too! Check out the great list below for some examples.
Questions? Ask the Librarian! We'd be glad to offer you some personalized help with your research project.