The Good Housekeeping Stran-Steel House from the 1933 Chicago World's Fair

A Century of Progress Homes of Tomorrow Exhibition

Home and Industrial Arts Planning Group

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Stran-Steel insert from the Good Housekeeping magazine in 1933 promoting the demo home

Highlighting man's scientific progress from dinosaur times to 1933, the Chicago World's Fair received more than 39 million visitors during its two years of activity. The fair covered over eight acres of space and consisted of hundreds of buildings and exhibits. The variety ranged from a demonstration on the uses of light at the Electrical Building, to an animal show at the Enchanted Gardens. With such a large number of things to see from a variety of topics, it would have taken the average family a week to see everything that was available to them.  Carrying out the theme of the fair, the Homes of Tomorrow exhibit in the Home and Industrial Arts show illustrated the blend of modern technology and furnishings in affordable and prefabricated housing.  The cover of the original brochure pictured below is courtesy of Mr. Michael G. Smith, researcher and author.

    

Many homes were commissioned and built especially for this particular area. Various companies tried their hand at creating aesthetically pleasing homes that also had some unique features that combined modern technology and futuristic design. Some were constructed of unconventional materials and guaranteed fireproof while others were more traditional yet hailed modern appliances and features built into the home interior design.

Good Housekeeping magazine and the Stran-Steel Corporation combined their mission to create a home that would be fireproof, pre-fabricated, and also affordable to the average family. Constructed of steel and baked iron enamel, this home was priced in the $7,500 range. Although only 1,300 square feet, it did not feel small due to the high ceilings and windows that give the illusion of spaciousness. Several companies provided interior fixtures for the exhibition homes to help advertise their products.  The Inco Alloys International Inc. (now known as Huntington Alloys a Special Metals Co.) of Huntington, WV provided the bathroom fixtures which are pictured in the Stran-Steel interiors.

The Good Housekeeping

This home was part of the 1933 Chicago World's Fair Century of Progress Homes of Tomorrow exhibition and was given the name the Good Housekeeping Stran-Steel Home. In 1934, it was purchased by real-estate developer, Robert Bartlett, and transferred to a suburb of Chicago.  This unusual French Art Deco design was commissioned by Good Housekeeping magazine and the Stran-Steel Corporation.  

The plans of the home called for a large recreation room on the second floor. A terrace covers most of the second floor roof area in a horseshoe shape. Entertaining was also a concern when architects conceived this design. A maid's room is adjacent to the kitchen area and a nice dining room alcove sets off the living room. The rounded bay window with casement windows and wooden blinds are also nice features.  

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For architects and builders, the Stran-Steel home exemplified a triumph in the use of an innovative building material that until now, had only been used for skyscrapers and commercial buildings. The Stran-Steel Corporation produced a lightweight steel beam that was more flexible than wood, lighter and twice as strong. The frame of the home consisted of these beams in a network of interlocking joints. Additionally, a key to the steel success as a building material was the use of a specially designed nail that would penetrate the girders to hold wallboard on both the inside and outside of the structure. The result was a sturdy and well insulated building that would withstand even the most severe weather and natural disasters.

The original outer covering that was created by the corporation was innovative and interesting. To provide a fireproof surface, eight by two feet sheets of three inch thick baked iron enamel were used to cover the outside. The baked surface of the material gave the illusion of brick and also helped to insulate the home. Of course, such an innovative and futuristic building material could only work on an Art Deco structure in the 1930's. The Stran-Steel House is a prime example of the deco influence on the artists and contractors of the day. Incorporating streamlined lines, elegance and technology is a trademark of the 1933 World's Fair. Many of the buildings that housed exhibits or concert halls personified the more cubist Bauhaus influence.

Good Housekeeping made good use of the World’s Fair demo home by showcasing numerous home decorating suggestions, entertaining options, interior designs, and furnishing in the 1933 editions of its magazine. Throughout each volume, various rooms were shown to highlight cutlery, napkins, and other accoutrements that the average housewife would need to know so she could entertain in style.

    

L-R: Stran-Steel Living Room; Dining Room; and second floor Recreation Room as seen in Good Housekeeping Magazine and accompanying World’s Fair brochures in 1933

A West Virginia couple saw the home at the '33 Fair while on their honeymoon and purchased plans. Built in in 1935, the Darwin Ensign family made a few modifications such as choosing yellow brick instead of baked enamel for the exterior.  This change served a practical and aesthetic purpose as we have learned that the baked enamel covering deteriorated over the years. The garage is not attached to the main house.  Above the two car garage is a one bedroom apartment that was used as the guest house.  The floor covering of the guest house is identical to the rubber flooring used in the original home.  The flooring is blue with a white border design throughout.  A sample of the flooring is listed in the Stran-Steel interiors

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Two views of the Ensign-Seelinger Home in WV before and after window replacement

The interior construction of the home in WV is identical to the original Chicago steel/concrete configuration.  A demo home was built from the plans and displayed in Philadelphia, PA. It is unclear what happened to this home, but assumed that it was also destroyed sometime during the mid-1930's. There is another version of the Stran-Steel home currently in Wichita Falls, Texas that was recently listed on for sale.  It also sports a variation for the exterior in which the Taft family, who built the home originally, chose not to use baked enamel panels. This image was taken from the realty site in which the home was pictured in 2011.

The Taft Home that was recently sold in Wichita Falls, TX

In 2012 a family recently contacted me with some info re: the origin of their home in Carlisle, Iowa. Their information provided by the Ford family who built the house indicates it was modeled after the World’s Fair Stran-Steel home.  The home in Iowa has been renovated and added onto over the years; however, Xerox copies of some original photos of its construction bear a resemblance to the Good Housekeeping design:

The Ford home located in Carlisle, Iowa

Another Stran-Steel home is located in Wilmette, IL which is not far from Chicago.  Former residents believed this was the original home that was moved after the fair ended by developer, Robert Bartlett. Some architectural websites such as View, have listed it as the actual home and close review of the enamel panels and original photographs show that the pattern is identical. We all hope that this is indeed the original home!

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The Good Housekeeping Stran-Steel Home in Wilmette, IL yesterday and today-- the original World’s Fair home!

Indiana Dunes Park service documents indicate that the original exhibition home was moved to a Chicago suburb after the '33 Fair and was torn down in 1992.  The documents also state its official name was changed to the Garden Home; but, this home was probably always known as the Stran-Steel Garden Home since this is how it was listed in 1933 and 1934 World’s Fair guide and view books from the fair. It was later listed on the National Register of Historic Homes as the Stran-Steel Irwin Garden House and was not French Art Deco but rather a traditional Cape Cod style. It was also showcased at the fair by the Stran-Steel Corporation in the Home Planning Group and even had a tin child’s toy available as a souvenir manufactured by Stran-Steel Corp. shown here in 2012 by Bateman’s Auctioneers and Valuers in the UK:

Recently, researcher, Michael Smith, located a reference to "Hale's House in the Sky" for a demo home built in a subdivision called, Merced Manor, by the Hale Brothers furniture company located on Fifth and Market Streets in San Francisco, California. The ad we located provides several interior photos that are identical to the original Kaufmann and Fabry Co. photos taken from the fair demo home so it is not clear if this home was actually erected in Merced Manor or if the room interiors were installed inside the Hale Bros. furniture company showrooms.

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According to the Wirt C. Rowland exhibition catalog published in 2005 by the Michigan Humanities Council, in addition to the original fair home, it is believed there were four more Stran-Steel homes built throughout the United States. If you have any information on additional Stran-Steel homes, please contact me!

A Century of Progress Homes of Tomorrow Photos and Images:

·       Good Housekeeping Stran-Steel House: Misc. photos and interiors

·       Wichita Falls, Texas Stran-Steel Home Construction

·       Wilmette, IL Stran-Steel House Images

 

Photographs were taken by the author and/or scanned from her personal collection of World’s Fair guides and memorabilia or from original fair guidebooks.

Dr. Monica Brooks, brooks@marshall.edu (2017)