February 2, 2021

Old Tyme Sears Modern Homes Advertising, 1930's and 1940's

In a continuing series of articles, we'll examine the changes in Sears Roebuck advertising of the Modern Homes business over the decades. In this final installment we will look at the advertising from the 1930's and 1940's.

This is the cover of the 1930 Modern Homes catalog. In earlier years, Sears had been showcasing very expensive houses on the cover. This is the Sears Lewiston, a moderately priced house. Even the dog can't wait to get home.

From the 1930 general merchandise catalog, an ad asking: "You are paying for an Honor Bilt Home. Why not own one? It's amazingly easy." You could buy the Sears Lorain for about $35 per month, which was a typical rental amount.

By the early 1930's, the catalog copy had become more streamlined. No more flowery language and color illustrations, just the house, the price and the brief details. During this time of the Great Depression, Sears house sales had plummeted. Additionally, the idea of a "recreation room" was launched by Sears during this time period.

In 1933, a creepy guy is handing over a house to you. Also included were blueprints, money, and trees.

Sears began running this ad style in 1934 and continued it through the 1940's. Attention grabbing headline, house, price, family looking on, inset of the Modern Homes catalog.

The 1935-1938 Modern Homes catalogs featured the same illustration on the cover. This is the 1938 catalog. They did go back to full color covers in 1935, an indication that sales were picking up.

By 1938, Sears Roebuck was no longer offering financing. Customers had to get a loan from a local bank or the FHA. The FHA ended up being a thorn in Sears's side because the FHA often would reject housing applications, and Sears would not get the sale. As a result, Sears Modern Homes salespeople often ended up managing the application process for their customers. This was a lot of additional work.

During the 1930's, men were often portrayed in advertising as the breadwinners, and Sears ads were no exception. Men were shown as self-assured and in-charge, while women were busy managing the house and kids. This ad is from the 1939 general merchandise catalog.

Sears again repeated the same catalog cover in 1939 and 1940. This illustration shows a streamlined Cape Cod house in a suburban neighborhood. This reflected how most Sears customers envisioned themselves living during that time.

From the 1940 general merchandise catalog, actual real-life models were shown. "But like so many others, we longed for a home of our own--with a garden in back and space for the children to play."

Also from 1940, a variant of the ad with the couple and the house. "Why, Mary and I didn't dream we could afford to build our own home...not on my small income!"

A Sears Lewiston in Lake Forest.

After 1940, national advertising for the Modern Homes business was completely curtailed.  This corresponded with the government's restrictions on lumber at the start of WWII. Sears ended the Modern Homes business in 1942. 



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