My dad used to joke about our little Puritan (Sears house). He said the postman brought it.
When my mother died in 1918 (in the flu epidemic), she left behind five children, ages 10, 8, 6, 4 and an 18-month old toddler. At the time, we were living in a poor area – kind of a slum – and to get us out of that, Dad decided to get us into a home of our own in a different neighborhood. In 1924, we moved into our new home.
I know that if it had not been for Sears and their kit homes, my dad could never have afforded to have a home of his own. It was so good for us to have that little home. Everything in it was shiny and bright and clean.
Reminiscence of Ruth Sward,
Sears Modern Home “The Puritan”
In the early 1900s, many American cities were filthy.
We were burning coal for transportation (trains), and for home heating and cooking, and also for industry (to power large machinery and heat large buildings). The ubiquitous coal dust and soot wreaked havoc on the health of young children, particularly their lungs. Stories abound of women’s flower beds and veggie gardens being destroyed by the soot that rained down from the skies above. In large cities, garments hung out on the line were quickly ruined by the omnipresent, greasy soot.
Pictured below are two workers on the side of a tall building. It looks like they’re painting a building, but they’re not.
They are scrubbing off the coal soot. Now, if that’s what the side of a massive building looks like, imagine what a child’s lungs might look like.
The mail-order catalogs issued by both Aladdin and Sears promoted the idea of happy, healthy children, playing with their siblings outside in the fresh, clean air. The Sears ad (below) says, “Know the joy of living close to nature where your children have a chance to play in safety…”
In this context, “safety” was not about dirty old men luring children into their dark sedans with promises of candy and kittens. It was about getting your children into a salutary environment – with tall trees and fresh breezes and clean air – so that the children might live to adulthood.
One old advertisement read, “Give the kiddies a chance…get them out of the city.”
Happy children playing in expansive yards on well-tended suburban lots were an important part of the kit home literature. Below is a picture of two young children, playing under the watchful eye of their mother, in the shadow of a darling little Sears Barrington. The graphic appeared in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.
Like Sears, Aladdin kit homes were also offered through a mail-order catalog. Aladdin actually started selling homes in 1906, two years before Sears, and lasted until 1981. Sears closed up their Modern Homes department in 1940.
In the late 1910s and early 1920s, Aladdin (like Sears) also leaned on the “healthy, happy children” aspect to sell their homes. The image below is from the inside cover of the 1919 Aladdin catalog. By the way, these children are playing in front of an Aladdin Pasadena. What a pretty picket fence! These rosy-cheeked children are enjoying the pleasures of strolling along well-maintained city sidewalks.
Like Ruth’s story above, Sears through open a door and offered families a way out of the filth in the slums and into a pretty little house, where the “kiddies” would have a chance.
Sears Modern Homes opened the door to a brighter future, and a sweet little two-bedroom, 1100-square-foot Dutch Colonial on a small lot with a picket fence. They offered people their very own piece of the American Dream, at an affordable price. Best of all, they offered men and women a promise that their little children could grow up in safety. And for the low, low price of $34 a month.
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