Courtesy BTHL

This article first appeared in ARCHITECT.

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.

The United States Gypsum Co., known today as USG, was created in 1901 with the merger of 30 national and regional gypsum companies. Gypsum is a soft, sulfate material that made up the base material of plaster and drywall for generations, and USG was a leader in its development and marketing.

In 1917, USG trademarked what would become its most iconic product—Sheetrock, their brand name for gypsum wall board widely used in residential and commercial construction. Thereafter, USG would go on to manufacture stucco products, roofing systems, and gypsum products for other industries. Exactly 100 years after trademarking Sheetrock, in 2017, USG became the first company to share its trade-literature archives with the BTHL. This agreement allows the BTHL to share post-1964 documents that are still under the copyright of USG.

Through this partnership, the BTHL was able to chronicle six decades of products by USG, the largest manufacturer of gypsum products in North America. See below for more.

Sweet’s Architectural Catalogue, Sweet’s Catalogue Service, New York, 1918
USG was featured in this comprehensive architectural products catalog just one year after trademarking its gypsum wall board. This advertisement calls out the folded edge composition, “a patented feature [that] gives a strong nailing edge and a permanently tight and uniform joint.”

Pyrobar Gypsum Tile, USG, Chicago, 1919
Pyrobar gypsum tile was a wall system that was marketed for its “fireproofing excellence.” This material was particularly popular for multi-family residential and commercial structures in the 20th century.

Sheetrock Pyrofill Construction Floors & Roofs, USG, Chicago, 1925
The use of gypsum planks that spanned roof structural systems was an early innovation of USG. This particular system used a paper-faced interior finish—hence the “Sheetrock” brand name—with a loose-fill insulation topping. Various roofing systems could be used on top of the planks and fill.

Walls of Worth, USG, Chicago, 1930
This catalog promoted the use of Sheetrock instead of plaster for residential construction. Though the product was introduced in 1917, it took decades for Sheetrock to replace other plaster options as the preferred materials for interior wall finishes.

The Red Book of Building Materials: USG, USG, Chicago, 1931
This specification manual covers the topics of plaster, stucco, and gypsum board—three of the most popular interior and finish materials for the first half of the 20th century.

How to Make Patterns and Models with Gypsum Cement, USG, Chicago, 1944
This “how-to” catalog offers detailed directions for the specialized use of gypsum cement to make patterns and models for industrial production.

USG Technical Information, Chicago, 1956
Each year, USG would publish USG Technical Information pamphlets compiling hundreds of pages of product specifications and details. This edition includes details for masonry mortar, roof decking planks, and more.

Sheetrock … Look What It Can Do For You! USG, Chicago, 1960
This catalog for Sheetrock showcases its various applications for residential construction in both new construction and renovation projects. This publication highlights Sheetrock's potential in fireproofing and its offering with color-matched aluminum moldings.

Gypsum Construction Handbook, USG, Chicago, 1982
The USG construction handbook is the de facto guide for gypsum products across the building sector. There are several editions of the gypsum construction and drywall construction handbooks on the BTHL.

USG Construction Selector, Chicago, 1996
This is the most recent, hard copy USG document to be included in the BTHL. After 1996, the trade and technical information transitioned from print to digital publication.

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