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.

A successful farm has always required more than a spit of land for growing crops and raising livestock. In fact, farms utilize a range of infrastructure from barns to fencing, to chicken coops, and even to electrical generators to efficiently and safely produce food.

The market for these investments shifted significantly in the late 19th century with the introduction of the rural free delivery mail system. This allowed rural farming communities to receive orders directly at their addresses, rather than traveling to centralized distribution hubs. Manufacturers took note, and soon the boom of trade catalogs expanded to farm-related products.

Below, the BTHL chronicles the range of available products for farmsteads in the 20th century.

Radford’s Practical Barn Plans, William A. Radford, Chicago, 1907
This publication claims to provide “a complete collection of practical, economical, and common-sense plans of barns, out buildings, and stock sheds.” Kit options include A-framed poultry houses, corn cribs, small smoke houses, balloon-roof barns, and even octagon house plans.

Concrete Construction for the Home and the Farm, Atlas Portland Cement Co., New York, 1915
From horse blocks and slop tanks, to barns and stable runways, this publication offers a wide range of structures and site improvements for a “modern” farm, advocating for the use of concrete for its durability, water tightness, and fire resistance.

Gordon-Van Tine Farm Buildings, Gordon-Van Tine Co., Davenport, Iowa, 1917
The Gordon-Van Tine Co. provided wood components for barn kits at approximately $750 a structure. The materials were shipped from regional distribution centers across the United States and could fit into one railroad boxcar for efficient transportation.

Delco-Light on the Farm, Delco-Light Co., Dayton, Ohio, 1926
A wide variety of self-contained electrical systems were available to rural residents before they were connected to the national electrical grid in the mid-1900s. This Delco-Light system featured a small, gas-powered electric generator for lighting or powering small devices.

Concrete-Ventilated Stave Corn Crib & Granary, Portable Elevator Manufacturing Co., Bloomington, Ill., 1930
The corn crib and the silo were two grain storing structures that stood out literally in the agricultural landscape. This company offered a corn crib made of ventilating concrete block units connected to a central steel frame.

Young’s Portable Poultry Houses, E. C. Young Co., Randolph, Mass., 1935
The E. C. Young Co. offered poultry houses available in prefabricated sections. The company advertised that “two handy men can put up a Young House in less than three hours.” They also sold rabbit hutches and dog houses.

The Farm Idea Book, Johns-Manville Corp., New York, 1942
This publication showcases the variety of ways that John-Manville materials could be used for farm and home construction. The manufacturer emphasized its products' improved fire resistance and the durability of its asbestos-containing products, such as roof shingles.

Successful Farm Buildings, National Plan Service, Chicago, c. 1950
This catalog aims to help readers solve “farm building problems, and make available our comprehensive building and planning service.” The National Plan Service breaks down barn design by size, floor plans, and use—such as dairy and horse.