Online market places like Amazon have made every day shopping affordable, fast, and convenient. Now imagine you could order a ready-made dream home online. The house would be built based off a set of models available, but could be customized to your exact preferences. Want granite countertops and two fireplaces? Or how about a neon yellow kitchen and hardwood floors? Consider it done, and ready to order. Now this is not a service available to Amazon customers (yet), but from 1906 to 1987 you could do almost exactly the same thing through a catalogue from The Aladdin Company (Aladdin Homes).
Founded by two brothers in Bay City MI, Aladdin Homes manufactured over 75,000 houses pre-cut houses around the country. Variety, locally sourced lumber, and “Readi-cut houses sold by the Golden Rule” were the selling points of their business. Aladdin advertised the superiority of their “Readi-cut” homes claiming that their “exact and sound architectural design”, and use of “modern power-driven machines” made them more efficient and cost effective.
The homes could be ordered through a catalog that showed all the designs and floor plans of each house the company could build. After selecting the design for your house, you could set it up with add-ons and customizations to add flair. Homes from The Aladdin Company were also very reasonably priced. To put things into perspective, during the early 1920’s the prices of their homes ranged from $674.50, to as high as $6,441. This was a time where the average family annual income was around $3,300 dollars, so building precut houses was very affordable for families.
Walking through the neighborhoods of Michigan you’ll see that The Aladdin Company wasn’t the only contender in the catalogue to manufactured homes business. One such competitor was the Miller & Zeilstra Lumber Company, established in 1934. Their catalogues looked very similar to ones from Aladdin Homes, with floor plans, basic information on the home style, and pictures of the homes all included. Depending on the decade the catalogue was printed, actual photos may have been used, or they may have included artfully drawn renditions of future homes.
Spears Lumber Company, with a lumber yard in Grandville MI, was another such catalogue that specialized in many types of buildings: from cozy summer cottages to garages. Over the years many of their buildings were given names like: The Cliffwood, The Gorman, and The Wingate. No matter where families got their homes from, and what creative names they were called, the companies that made these houses have left a mark on the history and landscape of Michigan. So, while we wait for Amazon to eventually pick up the slack, you may be able to find a Gorman or Wingate on Zillow as you search for your next home.
To view the housing catalogs held in our collections, please visit GVSU Special Collections & University Libraries.