wwII veterans’ housing and prefabricated “mail-order” homes

In response to the urgent need for housing for servicemen returning from World War II, President Truman authorized a large federal expenditure to provide temporary housing for veterans.  Waukesha was awarded 102 of these war housing units, which had been previously constructed in Sturgeon Bay as defense housing.  The Kroening Engineering Corporation of Milwaukee, which had constructed the original units in Sturgeon bay, was put in charge of dismantling the units and reconstructing them in Waukesha.  Each building was two-stories, and contained eight apartment units.

Waukesha was identified in the Milwaukee Journal and the Waukesha Daily Freeman as having been the first city in the Midwest to complete this type of veteran housing project.  However, these war house units were only temporary housing, and in early 1946 Homes for Waukesha, Inc. was founded to help expedite the construction of permanent homes for veterans.  The group chose Milwaukee architect Ray O. Steffen to provide plans for the homes to be built, supervise their construction, and handle their sales.  The plans called for a two-bedroom and one bath home, with a family room and kitchen-dinette, as well as the option to add two additional bedrooms to the upper level.  The city also established the Waukesha Housing Authority to aid in constructing homes for veterans. 

In October 1946, the City of Waukesha suspended their building code to allow for the construction of prefabricated houses.  The local Gamble’s store was running advertisements for prefabricated three-bedroom homes “available for immediate delivery.” 

Some of the first known prefabricated homes were produced by the Home-Ola Corporation of Chicago.  The firm was established in the spring of 1946, and by the fall they were shipping homes to 23 states.  The 750-squarefoot, two-bedroom, one and one half story homes cost $6,000 and took approximately only 300 man hours to build.

In Wisconsin, the most well-known name in prefabricated housing was the Harnischfeger Corporation.  The manufacturing firm created their housing division in 1936, and three years later switched their focus form the production of “complete housing units” to “building materials in the form of panels which could be made into a house.”  The company developed a new wood panel system, in response to the inability to employ steel for anything other than the war effort.  After producing around 2,000 homes, the housing division closed in 1942.  In 1944, the housing division was reinstituted, but its focus was purely on research, which developed six “more attractive” home designs.  The first test house was built in Port Washington in July 1944.  The number of “Harnischfeger Homes” estimated to have been built over the next 10-year period is around 22,000.  The shell of these homes were constructed in as short a time as eight hours, and families could move into their house in a little over three weeks after the first panels were delivered to the site.




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