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Modern prefab housing at dawn of 20th century

The home on the Jimmy Carter Boyhood Farm was a kit home, purchased from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. The Carter family moved into the home when Jimmy was about 4 years old. (Via OlyDrop)

The do-it-yourself, modest tiny home boom is gaining popularity in an era of shocking rent increases and low housing inventory — and we may have America’s former largest retailer, Sears, to thank for some of that inspiration. 

Sears was not the first company to offer “kit homes,” but the 1908 launch of Sears Modern Homes catalog, advertising a variety of home architectural styles and blueprints needed to build them, solidified the retailer as a pioneer in mail-ordered homes.

Similar to the prefabricated homes sold in stores today, Sears shipped pieces for buyers who could construct the houses themselves or hire builders to do it.

The iconic retailer is estimated to have sold between 70,000 and 75,000 houses before the catalog was  discontinued in 1940 and some estimates indicate the majority are still standing.

Look back at ‘kit homesSears pioneered the modern prefab house in the early 20th century

Between 1908 and 1940, Sears designed 447 different housing styles, “from the elaborate multistory Ivanhoe, with its elegant French doors and art glass windows, to the simpler Goldenrod, which served as a quaint, three-room and no-bath cottage for summer vacationers,” the company’s website states.

“Sears was not an innovative home designer,” the company said. “Sears was instead a very able follower of popular home designs but with the added advantage of modifying houses and hardware according to buyer tastes.”

The Home Depot versionHome Depot is selling modern, prefab tiny houses for under $50K: Here’s the catch.

Meet the new mobile homeManufactured houses deliver the American dream amid tough housing market

Handful of Sears stores remain

In 2018, Sears entered bankruptcy and shrunk from about 700 brick-and-mortar locations to less than 25.

Sears Holdings Corporation emerged from bankruptcy late last Fall after more than 10,000 court filings

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