Courtesy BTHL

This post is part of a monthly series that explores the historical applications of building materials and systems through resources from the Building Technology Heritage Library (BTHL), an online collection of AEC catalogs, brochures, trade publications, and more. The BTHL is a project of the Association for Preservation Technology, an international building preservation organization. Read more about the archive here.

Though William Radford’s eponymous architectural publishing company often billed itself as the “largest architectural establishment in the world” during its height in the early 20th century, its legacy has largely been forgotten. There are no monographs, no lists of buildings, no Radford Architectural Co. archives, and no Wikipedia citation.

Based in Riverside, Ill., Radford Architectural Co. employed architects and designers to create residential plans and layouts for builders and consumers, and to provide custom design services. These designs were featured in various publications, many of which served as both technical manuals and catalogs. By the 1920s, Radford Co. transitioned to printing periodicals with his flagship publication American Builder. Though the Radford Co. shuttered by the mid-1930s, many of its architectural plans remain available in the BTHL.

The Radford Ideal Homes: 100 Houses, Chicago, 1903
The Radford Ideal Homes is the first Radford residential plan book. The featured houses are primarily wood-frame buildings in a range of “folk Victorian” designs. Plans and specifications were available for $ 5—around $140 today.

Radford’s Cement Houses and How to Build Them, Chicago, 1909
Part reference manual and part design plan catalog, this publication provides details for the construction and specification of cement-based building components in residential applications. Many of the cement plaster and concrete block house layout options were inspired by the Prairie School designs made popular by Frank Lloyd Wright and his Midwestern contemporaries.

Radford’s Artistic Bungalows: Unique Collection of 208 Designs, Chicago, 1908
“A bungalow has individuality,” Radford writes in this catalog. “It has that something that makes a passerby turn after they have passed the house and say, ‘How cozy.’ ”The design styles advertised vary from Craftsman to Spanish, to farm house, and to Colonial, each cost under $10—around $250 today—and provides detailed specs with proposed layouts.

Radford’s Brick Houses and How to Build Them, Chicago, 1912
Like many of the company’s publications, Radford’s Brick Houses is two resources in one—the first half is a technical publication on brick construction and the second is a collection of model house designs. Photographs of constructed Radford residences are interspersed with proposed design illustrations.

Guaranteed Building Plans with Interior Views and Details, Chicago, 1915
This is one of the most comprehensive Radford plan books with numerous photographs of built houses and interiors. Barns and other agriculture-related buildings are also featured.

How to Read Plans and Take off Bills of Materials, Chicago, 1917
Radford calls this a “simple and practical treatise” for the “lumberman, contractor and mechanic” on being able to “read a set of plans intelligently.” This publication provides guidance on material designation symbols, understanding elevations and sections, and measuring scale.

Home Plan Suggestions, Chicago, 1921
One of the last of the Radford house plan catalogs, this publication showcases 34 different designs plans available for $10—around $250 today.

Colorkeed Homes: Fireside and Garden, Chicago and New York, 1927
Radford patented and trademarked a residential plan style called “Colorkeed,” distinguishable for its “architectural charm and practical, convenient arrangement.” Radford Co. produced this publication, though the cover features the name of the local lumber supplier.