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Dakota Datebook

Gullikson’s Sears Home

 

Mail order catalogs are nothing new. They have been a staple of Americana for well over a century. Perhaps the most famous is the Sears catalog.  Starting in 1888, Sears, Roebuck and Company, has sold an amazing array of items, from coal stoves to video games, power tools to ready-to-assemble homes. Yes, homes!

 

For over 30 years Sears was in the housing business, and it was on this date in 1914 that Mr. and Mrs. Gullikson of Cartwright, North Dakota ordered their ‘Hazelton’ model house. For the price of $1,525.37, the Gulliksons bought a home featuring two bedrooms, a parlor, dining room, kitchen, indoor bathroom and two porches. It even included nails, gutters and painting materials. It took a while for the house to arrive, via train, ferry and even rowboat – assembly required.

The Gulliksons were not the only Americans ordering homes from Sears. Some 100,000 houses were sold by the Chicago-based company. Sears entered the housing market in the 1890s by selling the raw building materials. However, the department struggled and was almost shut down until a former manager of the porcelain department thought of retooling the approach. Instead of just selling building materials, Sears started selling entire homes!

Selecting from the Sears Modern Homes catalog, customers could pick the house of their dreams, and even customize the blueprints. Sears shipped everything the homeowner needed -- pre-cut lumber, dry-wall, shingles, construction plans, nails and even varnish. The company boasted that the material was of the finest quality, and the pre-fabrication cut building time by 40 percent. Furthermore, Sears offered a liberal five-year financing plan with 6 percent interest.

However, Sears’ marketing plan eventually backfired. The homes were at their height of popularity when the Great Depression hit. Sears was left holding $11 million dollars in liquidated mortgages, as home-owners were no longer able to keep up with their payments. The Sears housing department struggled on for another 11 years until 1940 when Sears shipped its last Model Home. And although Sears is no longer in the housing business, the Gullickson home and many others are still in use.

 

Dakota Datebook written by Lane Sunwall

 

Sources:

Daniels, Laura, Viola Wick, Audry Sundheim, Marie Sawyer, Kathryn Gartner, and Luanna Aisenbrey, eds. Our Historic Homes: 1895-1989. Edited by Richland County Extension Homemakers Council. Sidney, MT, 1989.
Sears Brands, LLC, “History of Sears Modern Homes” http://www.searsarchives.com/homes/history.htm (accessed April 23, 2008).
“Sears Homes 1915-1920” http://www.searsarchives.com/homes/1915-1920.htm (accessed April 23, 2008).
“What Is a Sears Modern Home?” http://www.searsarchives.com/homes/index.htm (accessed April 23, 2008).

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