The Lustron Story…
Few homes had been built since 1929, because of the war and depression so when the soldiers began returning from WWII there was a severe housing shortage. The federal government had banned non-essential construction and still had restrictions on steel usage. In August 1946, Carl Strandlund (engineer/inventor) went to Washington D.C. to request the steel he needed for his company to build enamel-coated gas stations and hamburger stands. His request was denied. A month later he returned to Washington with sketches of all-metal houses that would become the Lustron. His request was approved along with an initial loan to get started. By late 1948, production began in the Curtiss-Wright plant (a former aircraft plant in Columbus, Ohio).
These homes were designed to be maintenance free. The ranch style homes usually had two or three bedrooms and included modern appliances like dishwasher/clothes washer. Cost was about $10,000 plus the lot. Most of the homes were built on a concrete slab. The homes were advertised as being three times stronger than traditional stick built homes and as being rodent proof, fire proof, lightening proof, and rustproof.
In a Lustron home you will find a built-in buffet, china pass through and built in bookcases and dressers. Pocket doors and a furnace mounted on the ceiling are standard. The exterior color options were pink, aqua blue, green, dove gray, maize yellow and desert tan. Interior colors were beige or gray. Production of one Lustron home required twelve ton of steel and one ton of enamel. The homes were shipped in 3000 pieces on a specially designed truck. Assembly took less than 300 man-hours.
Consumer Reports (June, 1948) picked the Lustron home as a "best buy." The Lustron home was considered to be an innovative design. In fact, many aspects of the Lustron production were "ahead of their time" such as the copper plumbing which created a few obstacles. Building code restrictions in Atlanta barred copper plumbing and Chicago required plaster ceilings and walls. Lustron Corporation suggested putting truck trailers loaded with Lustron parts on rail cars but the railroad was not interested. The concept "Piggybacking" was 20 years ahead of its time.
In 1950, the Lustron Corporation declared bankruptcy. The government claimed the homes were too far-fetched and expensive to be commercially profitable and foreclosed on Lustron. Others suggest the Lustron Home a victim of political ambitions and trade union greed. No matter what the reason for the company's bankruptcy, the homes today prove their original claims of durability! The Lustron name meant "luster on steel" and this is true yet today. Not surprisingly, many of those who own Lustron homes today, do so because of the homes historic value, design and maintenance free aspect. Most of the Lustron homes were built in the Midwest.
This homes original owners were Leigh and Marie Toland. Toland Theatre on the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse campus is named in honor of Marie Toland. The home was later sold to Frank & Alice Kendhammer and recently to Barb Janssen, who now maintains the home. The home is still in good shape … the walls and ceilings still shine. The furnace has been replace with a high efficiency furnace (still on the ceiling) along with a new washer/dryer under the furnace. The exterior still has a shine. The bathroom maintains the original tub, sink, vanity and lights. Electrical has been updated as well as insulation and flooring. More details of the homes history are available in the home.
For more Lustron history visit the links page or read Thomas Fetters book, Lustron Homes: The History of a Postwar Prefabricated Housing Experiment