VLR is pleased to offer this wonderful piece of architectural history, Aladdin Homes - Built in a Day, home plans catalogs. This listing is for a CD-Rom republication of this rare catalog.
Attractive, homey, healthful communities of Aladdin Houses that were erected as if by magic.... The Aladdin catalog tempted would-be homeowners with dream homes they could build themselves. These were affordable homes for the average American, but they carried upscale names such as the Jasmine, the Brentwood, and the Pasadena.
Aladdin began when William T. Sovereign, a lawyer by training, took note of a friend's success in selling "knocked down" boats by mail. Sovereign reasoned that if the parts of a boat could be machined ready-to-ship and nailed together by an amateur, houses could be sold the same way. Sovereign enlisted the help of his brother, Otto, who worked in advertising. Although they weren't designers, the Sovereigns were comfortable as entrepreneurs: Their father made his money in Michigan's booming lumber business.
Taking over their mother's kitchen as a design studio, the brothers sketched out a simple wooden building that could be put to a variety of uses. They contracted with a local sawmill to produce this precut building, printed a two-page catalog, and were in business. As with any small business, money was tight. Boles tells the story of how Otto realized that if he got an advertisement to a newspaper right on its deadline, the paper had no time to do a credit check and, rather than lose the business, would run the ad anyway. The Sovereigns took advantage of that insight to place a small, one-time ad in the Saturday Evening Post. A week later they heard from their first customer -- a man from Detroit who needed to build three houses and three barns for his family on their new land in Idaho. The Sovereign brothers had both order and payment by the end of the day, and the Aladdin home was on its way.
Aladdin quickly expanded to become one of, if not the, largest mail-order house companies. By 1915 sales surpassed one million dollars. The 2,800 homes Aladdin sold in 1918 constituted 2.37 percent of the housing starts in the nation. In 1926, production reached a peak of 3,650 units. The company's greatest success came from sales to industries which constructed company towns around new plants, mines and mills. The town of Hopewell, Virginia was largely developed by the DuPont Company using Aladdin Homes. Aladdin also shipped 252 houses to Birmingham, England for the Austin Motor Company.
Aladdin's output fell below 1000 homes in 1928 on the eve of the Great Depression, and never recovered. The company continued to produce catalogues, and maintained sales of a few hundred homes per year through the 1960s. During the 1970s sales fell further and by 1982 the company ceased manufacturing. The company ceased all operations in 1987.
The Aladdin company, along with other catalogue-home businesses played a key role in providing affordable housing to Americans in the period between the turn of the twentieth century and World War II. They also made key advancements in the prefabrication of housing which would enable the post-war housing boom. Finally, they helped to propagate nationwide preferences for common architectural styles such as the Craftsman, Bungalow, Four-Square and Cape Cod homes.