Sears Catalog Homes

Sears Roebuck and Company built many a marketing campaign around its ability to supply "everything for the home." However, between 1908 and 1940, Sears also supplied the home itself. Through its mail-order catalog, Sears offered more than 400 different house styles: from the elaborate "Ivanhoe," with French doors and art glass windows, to the Spartan "Goldenrod": three rooms and no bath.

According to Sears-house authority Rosemary Thornton, Sears kit homes contained about 30,000 pieces, including 750 pounds of nails, 27 gallons of paint and a 75-page instruction book with the homeowner's name embossed in gold on the cover. Masonry (block, brick, cement) and plaster were not included as part of the package deal, but the bill of materials list advised that 1,300 cement blocks would be needed for the basement walls and foundation. The average carpenter would charge $450 to assemble a Sears house. Painter's fees averaged about $35. Other skilled labor generally priced out at about $1 an hour. Total home prices ranged from less than $600 to about $6,000.

In some cases, Sears houses were more modern than the communities in which they were built. Electricity and municipal water systems were not available in every locale where Sears homes were sold. To meet this need, Sears advertised houses without bathrooms well into the 1920s. And for $23, you could always purchase an outhouse. This also explains, in part, why Sears sold heating, electrical and plumbing equipment separately, and not as part of the kit.

From 1908 to 1940, between 75,000 and 100,000 houses-all components manufactured by Sears-were made available through the company's catalog. Authorities believe that less than 5,000 of those have been conclusively identified as Sears homes, which means that at least 70,000 remain "undiscovered." Take Cleveland Heights, where only five homes have definitively been labeled "Sears": The Argyle on Marlindale, The Crescent and Ardara on Ormond, The Columbine on Clarendon and The Wayne on Randolph.

Across the Cleveland area, myriad Sears homes have been positively identified, although they likely represent only a small percentage of all those that were built. These structures include The Princeville in Bay Village, The Elsmore in Westlake and The Rodessa in University Heights. According to Rosemary Thornton, Ohio had more sales offices than any other state and most likely the greatest number of Sears homes.

Although no examples have been cited in northeast Ohio, there was even a Sears home model called "The Cleveland"-a two-story building with an apartment comprising four rooms and a bathroom on each floor. According to researcher Bill Latrany, Sears would often name houses after cities where there was a Sears Homes Catalog office. In addition to The Cleveland, Sears also created The Wellington, The Mansfield, The Lorain and The Norwood.

Mail order homes from other companies-Montgomery Ward, Aladdin, Gordon-VanTine-also have been identified across Cleveland. However, it is Sears that had, and continues to have, the enduring name recognition: the "cachet."