Instant House

A blog tribute to the manufactured, mass-produced, modular and kit homes that grace the American landscape.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Aladdin Homes

Cover from the last Aladdin Catalog (1954)
Aladdin Homes--The Coworker That No One Notices But Does Everything
In 1906, the Aladdin Company started selling "Readi-Cut" homes.  What makes this company different from Bennett or Sears?  Well....not much, though they managed to hang around much longer.  The company sold precut homes until the mid-1950s, and prefabricated paneled homes until the mid 1980s.  Through roughly 50 years, the company managed to change the style of their homes to fit the tastes of the current homebuyers.  Aladdin, unlike Sears, did not offer financing, labor credit or help with finding a lot--they were strictly selling structures.  Like Sears, the houses shipped via rail, though after WWII the company switched largely to tractor-trailer freight.  The other thing that made the Aladdin houses different from Sears is their....boringness.  Seriously.  Perusing over many years of these catalogs, I am astonished at how average and boring their designs are.  The 1917 catalog has like 30 variations of the same plain-Jane bungalow.  The 1954 catalog is a study in the 2 and 3 bedroom ranch house.  Though serving a very real purpose (affordable housing), the designs are really a snore.

The First Catalog--1908
To look at the first available Aladdin catalog, one realizes that the company was not sure of its direction.  The houses were called "knocked-down", rather than readi-cut.  I'm guessing the marketing people changed that since most people don't want to think of their house as being...knocked down.  The catalog was short.  It contained one bungalow, three variations of "summer cottage", a "hunting lodge", a "dwelling-house" (the only complete home in the book), a boat house, and a few garages.  The "dwelling house" is pictured below.

The Mid 1910's--Picking Up Steam  
By the mid 1910s, sales had taken off and the catalog was significantly expanded.  The 1917 catalog bears LOTS of resemblance to the Sears Homes Catalog of the era.  Each house has a floor plan and an isometric view showing possible furniture placement.  The houses in this catalog look like watered-down Sears catalog homes.  The published prices were a bit misleading--the large, bolded price reflects a 5% cash discount.

The Venus.  Sears bungalow's plain out-of-town cousin.

Aladdin Colonades from the mid-1910s.

Competition with Sears  
It's no coincidence that the Aladdin Company faced some fierce competition with Sears.  The mid-1910s were the height of Sears's sales, and subsequently the height of competition with Aladdin.  Aladdin had a famous "dollar-a-knot" guarantee--if you found a knot bigger than a dime, they paid you a dollar.  In 1916, Aladdin decided to publish a book of "Home Furnishings", probably to compete with Sears.  It only lasted one year.  The furniture was very handsome, however.  See below.

The Roaring 20's  
The catalogs of the 1920s look like...houses of the 1920s.  Nice, unoffensive blase street-car-suburb houses.  Interestingly, by now Aladdin had changed its price advertising scheme:  you'll note that the house pictured below includes a very clear breakdown of what the price includes.  This is again in competition with Sears--Sears's prices did not include extras and electricity.
The Yorkshire.  Find an suburb with trees--you'll find a clone of this house.  Cute, but boring.

The 1950s--The Last Hurrah
The last catalog put out by the Aladdin company is reflective of the new taste in American housing--the ranch home.  There's very little variation in the houses in this catalog.  Only three of the houses have a partial second floor--none are a full two stories high.  Again, despite my relative dislike for them, these houses served a need--quick, affordable housing that the owner could assemble themselves.  
The Brentwood--Found in every community EVERYWHERE.
The Aladdin Legacy
While Sears had the name-brand recognition that has withstood the test of time, Aladdin Homes were every bit as successful.  Their legacy can be seen in the ad below (from the 1954 catalog).  The relative plainness of Aladdin homes leads to their blending into the surrounding neighborhoods.  They don't have the same detailing as Sears homes, and subsequently don't jump out at you.  This is why they are REALLY hard to spot.  Look at that Brentwood--you can find clones of that anywhere.  You can't tell an Aladdin from the street, unlike the Sears homes.  Nevertheless, Aladdin homes are found everywhere--probably closer to you than you realize.  The company ceased all operations in 1987.

45 Years of Aladdin Homes


  1. Aladdin was in business until 1981--I just got a copy of their 1977 catalog. You should correct that. :) The CMU Library has scans of only their 1908 thru 1953, for some reason. Because they were around so much longer than Sears it's thought they built quite a lot more than Sears did... though the numbers are very...hypothesized.

    I can tell an Aladdin on the street because I've practically memorized their models, haha. You're obviously on the Sears side, I'm an Aladdin guy; hence the difference!

  2. Hey Philosophothinker, thanks for the info. As much as I like the Sears homes, I'm more fascinated with the Post WWII housing. More posts about these are forthcoming. I do like Aladdin's homes--my gross over-generalizations about their designs are obviously myopic. But it's fun to write in that style, hehe.