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, an online collection of architecture, engineering, and construction catalogs, brochures, and trade publications. The BTHL is a project of the Association for Preservation Technology, an international building preservation organization. Read more about the archive here.
A wide range of documents are produced for the homebuilder or homeowner, and they're not all house plan catalogs. The following documents provide a centurylong overview of residential builders’ and owners’ guides, beginning with a Victorian-era woodwork catalog and ending with midcentury compilations that reflect the 1950s ranch house boom.
By the early 20th century, both commercial groups and trade groups, such as the National Home Builders Bureau of New York and the Home Builders Catalog Co. of Chicago, compiled plan books and produced trade literature. Through these publications, some of which contained upward of 500 designs, the public could feast its eyes on residential designs across the country, a testament to the residential construction boom of the 1920s.
Hinkle & Co.'s New Book on Building, Hinkle & Co., Cincinnati, 1869
This document is both a woodwork catalog and a house plan book from Hinkle & Co., which manufactured “carpenter work for the inside and outside finish of brick, frame, and stone buildings of every description.”
The Complete House Builder With Hints on Building, Donahue, Henneberry & Co., Chicago, 1890
“This little pamphlet is written for the purpose of giving the non-professional engaged or interested in building, some familiarity with the requisites of a good house.” In addition to sample plans, “two sets of complete plans and elevations” were available through a Chicago architect.
Radford Home Builder, Radford Architectural Co., Chicago, 1911
Radford Architectural Co. was one of the most prolific publishers of builders guides and home plan books in the early 20th century. This 1911 publication contains 108 house plans; its final section lists Radford's many other trade publications. The company also produced a second volume of Radford Home Builder expanded to include small stores, churches, schools, and agricultural buildings.
Book of Home Building and Decorating, Henry Collins Brown, New York, 1912
This illustrated compilation of 20th century home design trends includes decorating advice and cutting-edge technologies of the era. “When the book was completed, I was astonished at the ease and rapidity with which I could refer to the different articles and how much more interesting the compilation was, compared with the loose collection. I was able to study each subject carefully, institute comparisons, and otherwise properly inform myself of what I desired to purchase. The only regret I had was that I bought more than I originally intended ….”
Home in Hawaii, Lewers & Cooke, Honolulu, circa 1920
This document, the BTHL's only publication from Hawaii, comes from a building materials supplier that also produced house plans. “When home builders retain the services of the Home Building Department’s Drafting Room, they automatically agree to have all materials purchased from Lewers & Cooke. No charge is made for services rendered.”
Book of a Thousand Homes, Vol. 1, Home Owners Service Institute, New York, 1923
This book, the first of a planned two-volume set, contains 500 house plans. The plans showcase the range of popular architectural styles in the 1920s and are arranged by the number of rooms, starting with the six-room house. The second volume was never produced.
Home Builders Catalog, Vol. 1 and 2, Home Builders Catalog Co., Chicago, 1928
This large document is available on the BTHL in two parts. The first half is a compilation of advertisements for building products. The second half contains more than 500 house plans with another several dozen designs for garages. The individual pages feature photographs of completed houses as well as small-scale plans.
Home Owners’ Catalogs: A Guide to the Selection of Building Materials and Furnishings, F.W. Dodge Corp., New York, 1935
The Home Owners’ Catalogs was a compilation of trade literature for all aspects of residential home building. This is the first edition, but the catalogs were produced annually from 1935 through 1955 with a gap during World War II.
Small Homes Data Book, National Home Builders Bureau, New York, 1940
This comprehensive publication begins with an overview of the home building industry and design trends and includes the "Small Home Builders Year Book" from 1939. The second half of the publication is a compilation of building-material trade literature by topic.
Home Owners’ Catalogs, F.W. Dodge Corp., New York, 1951
As mentioned above, the Home Owners’ Catalogs was a compilation of annual trade literature for all aspects of residential home building. This last edition includes a "Guide to Home Planning,” produced by Architectural Record.