Why people thought steel houses were a good idea

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:

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.

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.

Located in Columbus, the Ohio History Connection has a reconstructed Lustron as an exhibit. They also have online resources including the linked instruction manual.

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).

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