Why people thought steel houses were a good idea

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It was supposed to be the future of housing. What went wrong?

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Why aren’t homes made of steel? In the late 1940s, one company posed that question. Lustron was a prefabricated home that was supposed to be the future of housing. So why did it fail?

For just a few years — 1947 to 1950 — the Columbus, Ohio-based Lustron represented the future of housing. Using a steel frame and porcelain enamel-covered steel panels, Lustron made homes in a factory and shipped them around the country.

Vox’s Phil Edwards visited a Lustron home just outside Dayton, Ohio, to experience the unusual features, like magnetic walls, for himself. This home’s quirks weren’t relegated to the materials. Through a combination of government funding sources, an attempt to reinvent the production cycle for home, and a unique distribution plan, the Lustron home helps explain how housing does — and doesn’t — work in America.

Further reading:

https://www.amazon.com/Lustron-Home-History-Prefabricated-Experiment/dp/0786426551
Tom Fetters’s book, The Lustron Home, is packed full of charts, graphs, original letters, and a clear and concise history of the company’s successes and failures.

https://www.amazon.com/SUBURBAN-STEEL-MAGNIFICENT-FAILURE-LANDSCAPE/dp/0814252737
Suburban Steel, Douglas Knerr’s look at Lustron, covers similar ground, but with more of an eye toward government drama and the complexities of public funding for a private business.

https://www.ohiohistory.org/visit/exhibits/ohio-history-center-exhibits/1950s-building-the-american-dream/lustron-about/lustron-library/erection-manual
Located in Columbus, the Ohio History Connection has a reconstructed Lustron as an exhibit. They also have online resources including the linked instruction manual.

https://whitehallhistoricalsociety.weebly.com/lustron.html
The Whitehall Historical society writes here about their reconstruction of a Lustron home.

If you want to stay in a Lustron, you can. These are just a few of the Lustrons available on vacation sites like Airbnb and VRBO (including Barbara Rose’s home in West Alexandria).
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4832937
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/21647262
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/41822136
https://www.vrbo.com/1375987
https://www.vrbo.com/432058
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/44593287

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