DesignationRock Island's 100 Most Significant Unprotected Structures, 2009
Significance StatementRare, futuristic assembly line porcelain-enameled steel houses of which four of the 2,498 made nationwide are in Rock Island.
Architect / BuilderBeckman, Morris; Beckman & Blass; Lustron Corporation
Move to Mass ProductionAt the end of World War II, the United States did not have enough housing for the 12 million soldiers returning home. President Harry Truman pressured builders and suppliers to construct affordable housing. Many architects and designers, including Frank Lloyd Wright and Buckminster Fuller, tried to design inexpensive prefab housing that could be built quickly. But one of the most promising ventures was the Lustron Home by businessman and inventor Carl Strandlund. Vowing to mass-produce steel houses at the rate of 100 a day, Strandlund landed $37 million in government loans.
The first Lustron house was produced in March 1948. A total of 2,498 Lustron Homes were manufactured over the next two years. The prefabricated porcelain-enameled steel houses were made like cars on conveyor belts in a former aircraft plant in Columbus, Ohio. Flatbed trucks transported the Lustron panels to 36 states, where they were assembled on concrete slabs on-site by a team of local workers who assembled the house piece-by-piece from a special Lustron Corporation delivery truck using nuts and bolts. Assembly took about two weeks. The completed house cost between $7,000 and $10,000, not including the foundation and the lot, which was about 25 percent less than comparable conventional housing. Advertisements of the day offered a home that would “defy weather, wear, and time.”
Prefabricated housing had existed before the Lustron home came on the market. However, it was Lustron's promises of assembly-line efficiency and modular construction that set it apart from its competitors. The homes were designed by Morris Beckman of Chicago firm Beckman and Blass, and may have been loosely based on designs for the Cemesto houses in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.