January 5, 2021

Old Tyme Sears Modern Homes Advertising, Pre-1920

In an upcoming series of articles, we'll examine the changes in Sears Roebuck advertising of the Modern Homes business over the decades. In this installment we will look at the advertising from the early years of the business before 1920.

Richard Warren Sears, one of the co-founders of Sears, Roebuck & Co., wrote all of the firm's advertising and catalog copy in the early years of the company. Innovations at the time, Sears offered everyday low prices, money-back guarantees and no-down-payment plans. 

In 1908, Sears left the company. This was the same year that Sears Roebuck began selling houses.

The first Modern Homes catalog was kind of a snoozer. I doubt Richard Sears would have approved this.

The cover of the 1908 Modern Homes catalog. In true Sears style, the first page of the catalog announces: "You are perfectly safe in sending us your orders and money." Interestingly, the house pictured on the cover was never sold by Sears Roebuck.


The first Modern Homes catalog reflected how many Americans lived in 1908. The house was in a rural area, with what appears to be a barn in the distance. A boy carrying milk pails heads to the barn, with a dog bounding wildly behind him. 

Sears often printed its catalog covers in full color, but obviously didn't feel that the small run of the first Modern Homes specialty catalog warranted the expense.

Let's time jump to 1911. What a difference three years makes.

The 1911 Modern Homes catalog in glorious color. Sales must have picked up.

By 1911, we see a planned suburban neighborhood with sidewalks and a paved street.

Right around that time, Henry Ford began producing the Model-T automobiles on a gigantic scale. This accelerated suburban expansion. Workers could commute longer distances to work, and businesses gradually moved out of the city downtown areas. 

There are no cars pictured on the 1911 cover, but Sears was already selling detached garages. (The first house Sears sold with an attached garage was in 1919.)

A Model-T in front of a Sears No. 118 house in Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1916. Nice ride! Photo courtesy of Ashley Thorpe and Nick Karn.

The Sears advertising wasn't particularly original during this time period. Mainly, they showed simple illustrations of the houses, and prices.

Ad from the Spring 1911 merchandise catalog. The top house, the No. 154, was a substantial two family house (note the two front doors). The bottom was the Sears Hazelton, a popular "western bungalow" sold throughout the country.

A Sears No. 154 in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Photo from Realtor site.

A Sears Hazelton in Chicago.

In 1914, Sears began using actual people in their advertising. Hats were big in 1914.

"Stop Paying Rent. Quit Building 'Castles in the Air'. Build a Real Castle--A Home of Your Own." This is the first Modern Homes ad in which the copywriters were finally allowed to let loose. No more of the dull house/price lists.

1917 provided readers with more creative ads.

This family got tired of renting and built a brand new Sears Sherburne. 

There was plenty of space in the living room for the kids to dance the night away.

The living room of a Sears Sherburne in Wheaton. Photo from Realtor site.

1918 shows a continuation of the family-focused advertising.

John Doe throws his rent receipts in the garbage and fills out the order form for a Sears Roseberry house.

A Sears Roseberry in Kenosha. Capture from Google Streetview.

Coming soon: Sears Modern Homes advertisements from the 1920's!


Architectural Observer said...

Thanks for this highly informative look at the origins of the Sears kit house phenomenon as seen through their early advertising. Was the house depicted on the cover of the first catalog actually offered by Sears but simply never sold or was it a generic illustration chosen to generate interest?

Modern advertising seems dull and lacking in imagination when compared to these early twentieth century examples. I'm greatly looking forward to the continuation of this series!

Sears Homes of Chicagoland said...

Sorry, my wording was poor. It was a generic illustration, which is inexplicable.

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