Instant House

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

Friday, August 12, 2011

Edison Cement

Thomas Edison
Electricity and Concrete  
The father of the lightbulb, Thomas Edison, had his hands in virtually everything.  Few realize it, but he was a pioneer in the motion picture industry, as well as the recording industry.  Being an experimental inventor, however, his lab was prone to fires.  Lots of them.  Really.  There were a lot of fires.  So naturally, he was interested in fireproofing things, not the least of which were homes.  Always on the lookout to make money, Edison introduced a series of reusable concrete forms that could be used to erect a handsome, three-story house, completely of concrete.  

The "Single Pour" System
Edison envisioned an elaborate series of iron forms that would be erected, and then one pour of concrete would be used, to eliminate seams which are points of weakness in any concrete structure.  Edison received patents for this system in 1915 and 1917.  A few structures were erected, however the business was stymied by one thing--the $30,000 cost of the forms!!!!  Some estimates put the out-front cost as high as $175,000.  Few builders could afford this huge up-front cost, and the project (and the Edison Portland Cement Company) quietly faded into a memory.

The Concrete House Legacy  
The structures Edison built are still standing, but some are prone to leaking--a characteristic of many early concrete structures (the Mercer House in Doylestown, PA, and the early Frank Lloyd Wright concrete structures, for example).  Edison claimed these structures would be bomb-proof, though no one has tested that theory.  There are a few clusters of these homes in New Jersey.  A notable cluster is in Union, NJ, and was the subject of a recent episode of PBS's History Detectives.  
A Model of the Concrete House

A picture of a concrete house being erected.

Edison's garage today.

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