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A Fascinating Little Tidbit about WLS and Sears

“What does WLS stand for?” is a question I often ask lecture attendees.

After giving more than 200 lectures in 25 states, only two people have answered this question correctly.

I’ll give you a hint. It has to do with Sears and Roebuck.

Thanks to eBay, I’ve located and purchased all manner of Sears Modern Homes ephemera, and one of my treasures is this employee newsletter. In fact, it was the very first edition of the “WLS” employee newsletter! Published in early 1925, it featured an interesting story titled, “The House The Kelly’s Built,” which told the story of a next-door neighbor  (Mr. Kelly) who’d hired “Jerry” (a 12-year-old boy) to help him build his newly purchased Sears kit home, The Clyde.

Jerry’s father (Mr. Thomas) was incredulous when he heard about this. After all, housebuilding is a difficult trade, for seasoned and experienced craftsman. When Jerry tries to explain that it’s a Sears kit house, with a 75-page instruction book, and numbered framing members (for easy assembly), his father chastises him for his impunity and reminds him that he is not to interrupt his elders.

It has a happy ending, as Mr. Kelly (the new Sears Homeowner) explains to Mr. Thomas (Jerry’s dad), that it is a very easy house to build, and when completed, it’ll be a real dandy of a home.

There are three important take-away lessons from this story.

1)  Building a kit home (12,000 easy pieces) was considered to be a simple task by the people who lived in the early 20th Century.

2) It was acceptable (and even common practice) to hire 12-year-olds for hard work.

3) Mr. Thomas was a horse’s ass.

To read another fascinating story about a murder in Lake Mills, click here.

Here

This short story appeared in the first edition of an employee newsletter issued for employees of Sears Roebuck. The name of the newsletter was "WLS."

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Lumber was numbered to facilitate construction

Framing members were marked with a three-digit number and a letter (D is for 2x8s, C for 2x6s, B for 2x4s). This mark, together with a 75-page instruction book, made assembly easy for even the novice homebuilder.

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The house that the Kellys are building (with young Jerrys help) is the Sears Clyde, a very modest and popular bungalow.

The house that the Kellys are building (with young Jerry's help) is the Sears Clyde, a very modest bungalow. Because it is such a modest house, it often gets severely remuddled through the passing decades. Identifying these simple houses is very difficult.

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Clyde

The Clyde, as seen in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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At least 98.76% of the time, the bay window in a little bungalow such as this is used for the dining room. The Clyde is an odd exception. In this little house, that bay on the side is for a bedroom, and the bathroom is right behind it. This is a useful detail for identifying The Clyde, as you should expect to see a bathroom vent roof pipe behind the bay.

At least 98.76% of the time, the bay window in a little bungalow such as this is used for the dining room. The Clyde is an odd exception. In this little house, that bay on the side is for a bedroom, and the bathroom is right behind it. This is a useful detail for identifying The Clyde, as you should expect to see a bathroom vent roof pipe behind the bay.

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This little Clyde in Cairo, IL is not feeling very well, and yet - it is definitely a Sears Clyde. That lowered platform on the front porch is still in place, but obscured by this white sedan. The gable ornaments and porch details are gone, and someone thought itd be a swell idea to do a thatch effect roof (shudder), but its a Sears Clyde.

This little Clyde in Cairo, IL is not feeling very well, and yet - it is definitely a Sears Clyde. That lowered platform on the front porch is still in place, but obscured by this white sedan. The gable ornaments and porch details are gone, and someone thought it'd be a swell idea to do a "thatch effect roof" (shudder), but it's a Sears Clyde.

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WLS

WLS stood for "World's Largest Store." The famous Chicago radio station, WLS, actually began as a promotional tool for Sears. The station signed on in 1924 with farm reports and weather information. Sears sold the radio station in the fall of 1928. Back in the day, call signs had meanings. Here in Norfolk, we had WGH which stood for "World's Greatest Harbor."

To read Part II, click here.

To learn more about how to identify a Sears home, click here.

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  1. Richard Kearney
    December 29th, 2011 at 08:48 | #1

    I love the article and a nice plus for Cairo, Illinois. We love our historical little river town!

  2. Rita W
    December 29th, 2011 at 09:16 | #2

    Where is the continuing page?

  3. December 29th, 2011 at 09:29 | #3

    I scanned this several weeks ago, and I didn’t even realize it continued to page 28! I’ll have to retrieve it, scan it, and put it up! :) At least I know people are really reading these fun little blogs!

  4. Rita W
    December 29th, 2011 at 09:49 | #4

    That would be kewl. Your blog has me looking at homes here in Westchester County, NY and in the Elmira and Seneca Lake region for kit homes. Ironic that sometimes when just viewing a catalog page, I know that I’ve seen that style of home and try to place where I’d seen it.

  5. December 29th, 2011 at 09:54 | #5

    @Rita W
    It’s done! Part II is up and ready to read. BTW, New York state is *loaded* with Sears Homes. Send me some photos and I’ll do a blog on the kit homes in New York. Did you know that Syracuse has a Magnolia? If you search for “Magnolia” and “Syracuse” at this blog, you’ll find the story - with lots of photos!

  6. Rita W
    December 29th, 2011 at 10:28 | #6

    LOL … I had already read that blog entry. In fact that is the blog that got me interested in the first place. Niece is in Rochester but have yet to get her interested in Sears Kit Homes but will work on it.

  7. Rachel Shoemaker
    December 29th, 2011 at 11:55 | #7

    I LOVE these little stories. It brings the *Sears* house to life. I have amassed quite a collection of mail order catalogs and the little notes and math figuring and such that I find scribbled here and there make it seem so real…like I am there in the moment. I enjoy the testimonials from pleased customers. I’ve not seen WLS before. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Rita W
    December 29th, 2011 at 16:05 | #8

    I found these two online. They are located in Long Island, New York and that first one is quite lovely. http://www.newsday.com/classifieds/real-estate/real-li-1.812034/ever-wanted-a-sears-kit-home-here-s-your-chance-1.2233481

  9. December 29th, 2011 at 16:40 | #9

    The top house is a Sears Mitchell. The one on the bottom is not a Sears House. What a shame they don’t specifically identify the model in this FSBO ad.

  10. November 22nd, 2012 at 10:11 | #10

    It’s probably easiest to look for these Sears Homes near the railroad lines, or within a mile from one. In many cases, these home “kits” were delivered in a single boxcar, which was the buyer ’s responsibility to unload. Many in the Chicago/suburban areas will be found in this manner. Also look in an area that was still somewhat rural in the 1920s and 30s.

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