Many early-1900s kits are still standing

Johanna Kassel:

Sears, the department store, was one of the most prolific manufacturers. It sold more than 70,000 of its Modern Homes from 1908 to 1940, customised and delivered to a local rail depot in a boxcar or two. About 25,000 are estimated to remain today.

Models ranged from two-room cottages without indoor plumbing to the Magnolia, which had a dozen rooms including servants’ quarters. The cheapest sold for less than $1,000; the grandest for more than five times that amount.

Kit catalogues highlighted the labour and cost savings. A 1926 catalogue stated that a Sears home would save more than 230 man hours during construction and eliminate the need for an architect. Though it saved only about $125, that was enough to make home ownership achievable for many.