Why mass-produced National Homes are interesting (to me)

Update for 2022: In 2014, I wrote an article for Angie’s List Magazine about prefabricated homes. In putting together this blog, I wanted to pass on some history that didn’t make the final cut. However, at this time, eight years after doing the research, I don’t really consider myself an expert on this topic, and being laid off by the company is still somewhat of a sore spot. So I’d like to let the article speak for itself.

Prefabricated homes were nothing new in the 1940s. Since the late 19th century, companies such as Sears and Aladdin made kit homes—a numbered set of pieces. Though ready for assembly, these still required many hours of labor.

National Homes corp. ad

A 1952 ad for National Homes. (Image via retrorenovation.com)

In 1936, the Gunnison Housing Corporation started shipping prefabricated “MagicHomes” from New Albany, Indiana. Before founding National Homes, the Price brothers sold Gunnison homes in Lafayette. But National Homes became popular starter homes for returning GIs in the post-war years, competing with Gunnison and Lustron, which started building reinforced enamel, prefab homes in 1947.

The main reason for their popularity was price. As I state in the article, National Homes made great starter houses:

Homeowners purchased the plot, poured a concrete slab, then constructed units starting at $2,000 for a two-bedroom and $2,400 for a three-bedroom in the 1940s.

The company continued to grow and thrive during the post-war years. According to a 1954 TIME Magazine article about James Price and his company:

In the great U.S. housing boom, no one has done better than James Robert Price of Lafayette, Ind. As founder and boss of National Homes Corp., Price has succeeded where many another failed: he proved that a prefabricated house can be mass-produced and sold at a profit without looking like a Quonset hut. Last year Price sold 14,127 nonfarm houses; in 1954 he will account for one out of every 48 started.

After attempting to re-structure in the late ’80s, the company filed for bankruptcy in 1991. However, a large amount of homes are still around, usually without the occupants even knowing it, even though the company is gone.

Another 2022 update: Unfortunately, my full article about National Homes and the problems encountered while remodeling has since been deleted by the company after selling to Home Advisor and rebranding as Angi.


6 thoughts on “Why mass-produced National Homes are interesting (to me)

  1. I have one of these homes, it was just damaged in a tornado and I am keeping the metal plate that was on the wall with the serial number! I sure hope this house can be saved.

  2. I have a National Homes 2 bedroom 1 bath Ranch serial #52880 built in 1953. We bought it in 1999 and are the 5th owners. The house was an overrun from a Military contract purchase for a couple of sites. One being an Air Base and the other a NIKE site. I was told there were 1200 homes ordered and 1000 built on the bases leaving 200 for sale to private buyers. There were 4 different floor plans in the Military contract. 2 and 3 bedroom Ranch models as well as 3 and 4 bedroom Cape Cod models. Mine is on a full basement with the utility room being the basement stairway. I found out my Grandpa laid the block for the basement and did the basement floor. The original owners were an older couple that had the place until the late 1960’s. It was then owned by a series of young couples that each improved something in the house. We got it from a single person who was transferred out of state for their job. I am the longest owner and have updated the kitchen and bath as well as a metal roof and 150amp electrical service. The furnace is oil and very efficient. We use a window unit in the bedroom for cooling. The 2nd bedroom is now a large walk in closet and I plan on living in this home for the rest of my life.

    • I would love to share it. Unfortunately, Angie’s List (now ANGI) deleted a ton of great content written by our newsroom after the Home Advisor takeover. I tried to find a print copy in my small home archive but was unsuccessful. If I get ahold of it, I’ll post it here and link to the article.

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