With several million people coming out of the service at the close of WWII, Carl Strandlund was keenly aware of consumer needs for adequate housing. In the fall of 1946, Strandlund appealed to the Veterans Emergency Housing Program, asking them to release some of the government’s hoarded steel supply for the purpose of constructing his concept house. He worked diligently to promote his idea of a prefabricated home comprised of interlocking panels restricted by plastic gaskets to form continuous walls of porcelain steel fastened by bolts or screws to metal studs.
Despite the fact that President Truman was a vigorous supporter of housing reform, the government loan that Strandlund sought was not forthcoming. The powers that be wanted to see the Lustron Corporation put up more of its own capital. Eventually, a deal was struck and Strandlund was offered one of two Curtis Aircraft War plants, one in Cincinnati the other in Columbus, Ohio. Strandlund chose the Columbus location and signed a lease for $428,000 a year.
With both a manufacturing site and a Reconstruction Finance Corporation loan in place, Strandlund began promoting the Lustron home, pursuing as much media exposure as possible. He boasted that the plant would be up and running, producing Lustron homes in a mere 9 months at a cost of approximately $7,000. In actuality, the retooling of the former aircraft factory took 19 months and necessitated 6 more RFC loans to the tune of $37.5 million!
Prospective homeowners were intrigued, so much so that Lustron had a 6,000 order backlog by January of 1947. By November of 1948, 320,00 inquiries had been received. The US armed forces also took notice of the Lustron home, placing them on bases in Alaska and more notably, Quantico Marine Base in Virginia. In 1949, The Strategic Air Command of the US Air Force ordered 2000 units, the largest order ever received. Later that same year, the order was cancelled.
The parts for the Lustron weighed 35,000 pounds and if properly packed, could fit on a 35 ft tandem trailer. The Lustron Corp. approached the railroads, asking to piggy back their loaded trailers on train flatcars. They were unable to strike a deal which in turn, severely hurt Lustron’s ability to market and deliver its product to the West. In an attempt to overcome this obstacle, Lustron had 800 specially designed trailers manufactured by Fruehauf Trailer Co. at a cost of $4.5 million.
A Lustron sold from the factory was priced at $7,500 but additional expenditures were necessary – approximately $3,000 in miscellaneous expenses including a lot and building, electrical and plumbing contractors if the prospective homeowner was not proficient in these skills. The average cost of a traditionally constructed frame home at the time was $6,500, so the $10,000 price tag for the Lustron was prohibitive to many.
So began Lustron’s downward spiral of over spending, over promising and under delivering. Once production was up to speed, the market had dried up. Lustron missed the peak of the housing shortage and failed to produce a low cost home as promised. Inability to pay off multiple government loans would ultimately bankrupt the company and on Valentines Day of 1950, foreclosure proceedings began.
According to 2002 statistics, approximately 2,200 of the 2,500 houses built remain but modern development in the name of progress has reduced this number significantly in recent years.