Is Your House from a Catalog? About Mail Order Homes

Find floor plans and drawings for Sears and other catalog homes

A 1904 catalogue cover depicts a father greeting the mailman while enjoying a day on the porch with his son and the pet dog.
From the Cover Of a Montgomery Ward Catalog, circa 1904. Photo by Chicago History Museum / Archive Photos / Getty Images (cropped)

Did your old house come "in the mail"? Between 1906 and 1940, thousands of North American homes were built according to plans sold by mail order companies such as Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Wards. Often the entire mail order house (in the form of labeled timbers) came via freight train. Other times, builders used local materials to construct homes according to the mail order catalog house plans.

Catalog house plans by Sears, Montgomery Wards, Aladdin, and other companies were widely distributed in the United States and Canada in what has generally been called pattern books. Where are those plans now? To find the original plans and to learn other important information about your mail order house, follow the steps listed below.

Search for written records

The neighbors may say your home was made by Sears, but they could be mistaken. Several other companies also sold house kits and house plans. To find out who made your house, check building permits, mortgage agreements, deeds, and other public records. Also look through scrapbooks, old correspondence, and ledgers. More search tips:

Look for physical clues

Scout around in the cellar and attic for numbers or words stamped on joists and rafters. Also check your home's hardware and plumbing fixtures. You may be able to find trade names that will identify the manufacturer of your home.

Keep in mind that the popular catalog houses were widely copied by local builders. It's easy to mistake a locally-made home for one designed by Sears or Wards. More search tips:

Browse online catalogs

Actual pages from historic house plan catalogs are reproduced on several Web sites.

As you browse through these pages, remember that plans were often used for several years after they were first created. So, if your house was built in 1921, make sure to also browse plans for earlier years. Here are some good places to start:

Browse print catalogs

Can't find anything that resembles your house online? Don't give up. Browse through original or reproduction catalogs at your library or bookstore. Some catalogs even include construction information such as the type of woods to use. Here are a few reproduction Sears catalogs:

  • Small Houses of the Twenties, "The Sears, Roebuck 1926 House Catalog." Construction information includes detailed illustrations of interiors and fixtures.
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  • Sears, Roebuck Homebuilder's Catalog - The Complete Illustrated 1910 Edition. Well-illustrated with construction specifications.
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  • Homes in a Box, Modern Homes from Sears Roebuck, Schiffer Publishing. Reproduction of Sears 1912 Modern Homes catalog.
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Be open-minded

Local builders and homeowners often customized mail order plans, adding porches, moving doors, and adapting details to accommodate personal tastes and needs.

The mail order plans you find may not resemble your own home exactly. More search tips:

Study the Ads

The catalog page for your mail order home will provide a wealth of information. You'll find the original retail price of the house and the types of materials used. You'll see floor plans and a simple drawing of the house. You might even find some construction details and specifications.

Want more information?

Does all this seem like a lot of work? You bet! But researching your mail order home is also fun and fascinating. You'll enjoy the journey, and along the way you're likely to meet friends who share your enthusiasm for older homes. Good luck!