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.

The concept of laminating sheets of wood together with an adhesive dates back to the Egyptian pharaohs. But its widespread application in residential construction and interiors did not gain popularity until the 1930s when a chemist at the Harbor Plywood Corporation developed a waterproof adhesive.

Here, the BTHL chronicles the use of plywood as a framing material, decorative feature, and more through the 20th century.

United States Plywood Co., Los Angeles, 1932
The first item listed in this catalog is a 48” x 96” sheet of Douglas Fir wallboard, lauded for its “good qualit[y] ... lumber, but ... structurally stronger than any other lumber or wallboard.“

Plywood, United States Plywood Co., New York, 1935
This comprehensive catalog of plywood covers its many applications, techniques of production, and physical properties. The U.S. Plywood Co. advertises its architectural uses as well as in the construction of Steinway pianos and in radios.

Art-Ply for Modern Interiors, Vancouver Plywood and Veneer Co., Vancouver, 1938
This catalog claims that its Art-Ply “offers a new, modern interior mode for homes, studios, office and pubic buildings. For remodeling it has no rival. It will go over old unsightly walls and ceilings, and can be easily installed and quickly finished without delays, and afford dry construction.”

Industrial Uses for Douglas Fir Plywood, Douglas Fir Plywood Association, Tacoma Wash., 1942
This World War II–era catalog highlights the uses of plywood during wartime, with an emphasis on industrial and commercial.

Plywood Handbook of Residential Construction, United States Plywood Corp., New York, 1945
The housing boom that followed WWII led to increased demand for plywood as the preferred building material for residential construction. Plywood was lauded for its durability, low cost, ease of installation, and minimal waste.

Beauty in Plywood … Canadian Birch, Canadian Hardwood Veneer & Plywood Bureau, Ontario, Canada, c. 1950
This catalog advertises the use of Canadian birch plywood for furniture, paneling, doors, room dividers, and more.

Met-L-Wood: Metal Bonded to Plywood, Met-L-Wood, Chicago, c. 1950
The Met-L-Wood Co. produced plywood panels with a thin metal face for application in buildings, rail cars, trucks, and on certain equipment. The installation did not require extensive ribs or frames resulting in clean, smooth surfaces.

The Story of Plywood: America’s Busiest Building Material, Douglas Fir Plywood Association, Tacoma, Wash., 1954
This tongue-in-cheek publication by the Douglas Fir Plywood Association details the history of the material in comic book form.

Weldwood: Architectural Grade Plywood Panels, United States Plywood Corp., New York, 1957
This publication features specialty plywood with various wood veneers that were used for interiors and casework.

Baxco Fire-Protected Lumber and Plywood, J. H. Baxter & Co., San Francisco, 1961
The use of plywood with pressure impregnated inorganic fire retardants resulted in wood panels that had reduced fuel consumption and smoke density.

Weyerhaueser Catalog of Plywood, Tacoma, Wash., 1961
Texture One-Eleven, an interior and exterior plywood that was very popular in residential construction in the 1960s and 1970s, is featured in this comprehensive catalog of plywood for architectural applications.