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Early 1900s DIY


Aladdin Readi-Cut Homes (not pre-fabricated) 1906-1981

The popularity of DIY “do-it-yourself” home improvement and decorating projects began in the early 20th century. The North American Construction Co., later known as the Aladdin Co., was founded in 1906 by the William and Otto Sovereign Brothers. They got the idea from a Michigan company that was selling pre-cut, pre-fitted boats for consumers to assemble themselves. The Sovereign Bros. took the idea a few steps further and offered boats, homes, and garages and advertised that “Anyone who can drive a nail can put together an Aladdin House.” Once they sold a “kit” by mail order, they contracted out the specifications for the wood in the kit to local lumberyards, which would then pre-cut the sections of the houses for shipping and final assembly by the consumer. Aladdin claimed that “A saw is practically unnecessary in the erection of one of our houses. We supply the entire house for you to fit and nail together in a few days.”

In 1910 they coined the term “Readi-Cut” and by 1915, in addition to small cottages, they offered farm outbuildings such as barns and henhouses, and eventually interior furnishings such as cabinetry and appliances. The small cottages soon grew into large scale houses and Aladdin was so successful because they offered a style for everyone in all price ranges. They sold Dutch, English, and Georgian style Colonial houses, California and Stickley bungalow styles, and variations of all of the above. A few years later, North American Construction had grown into a million dollar business, owned their own lumber mills, and were calling their products Aladdin Readi-Cut (not pre-fabricated). Note the inclusion and emphasis of the word not pre-fabricated in parentheses of their name! You do it yourself! During the early 20th century the Radford Architectural Company, Sears, and other Michigan firms, Liberty, Sterling, and others were competing with Aladdin in the do-it-yourself housing market. These catalogues are valued and interesting because of their creative graphic design, and how they show the evolution of interior and exterior 20th century home design.

The National Museum of American History Library trade literature collection also has early examples of these home building kits. These and other trade catalogs can now be searched in the trade literature database available via SIRIS Collections Search Center.—Elizabeth Broman

related post: DIY at CHM


  1. So interesting to see how things have not changed much since the early 1900’s

  2. What’s more interesting is back then, they thought Aladdin was a white guy with a robe!

  3. Thanks for this article. It’s really neat to see how the DIY mentality evolved over the years. This is something that organizations like Habitat for Humanity could use. I wonder why we don’t see more companies like this nowadays.

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    This was a very insightful article to a very interesting topic. We learn a lot of things simply by looking back to the past

  5. Great article and the house looks really cool for the time frame. I love seeing these old advertisement. Reminds me of the Sears advertisements for there ready made homes. All though it doesn’t seem like much has changed, it really has. In the early days I believe a person could build a DIY home, but I don’t believe that anymore. It is still possible but very hard. I have looked into it. Most state and local laws now require the person building the home to have a general contractors license. Otherwise I believe you would still see a lot of that type of advertising for homes. More and more regulations take away the fun things to do. Just like riding a bike when you were a kid without a helmet. Nowadays every kid has a helmet on. Oh well, I guess that’s what you call progress. Not sure if it’s good or bad.

  6. As an earlier commenter stated, not much has changed. I’d have to agree. the technology etc. has certainly come along way since then, but prefabbed home concept has been virtually unchanged.

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  8. What’s more interesting is back then, they thought Aladdin was a white guy with a robe!

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