An Architectural Historian, Hunter Granny House on the Elgin, Illinois Heritage Commission.
These homes were marketed by mail order catalog from 1906-1982. Eight major companies, and a host of small local companies, sold these homes primarily in the USA, but also in Canada. The company provided building plans and materials to construct the home. The materials were provided either as bulk lumber, or more commonly as precut framing boards. The latter were known as “kit” homes. The buyer received all the materials from one source: lumber, roofing, doors and windows, flooring, trim boards, hardware, nails, and enough paint and varnish to put 2 coats on everything. Electric, plumbing and heating fixtures were NOT provided as part of the house, but were available at extra cost. Materials were shipped primarily by rail, but also by boat, depending on the location of the plant and of the purchaser. Most buyers ordered from the closest supplier, as the buyer paid the freight charges.
GORDON-VAN TINE/WARDS numbers are handwritten in grease pencil, usually in the middle of a board. They most often consist of numerals, hyphenated in groups, e.g. 17-21-19, or 3-5 digit numerals. Part names are stamped in ink, capital letters about 1" high (e.g. "ceiling joist" "top rail"). Model or order numbers may be handwritten 4-5 digit numbers. Delivery address may be stamped or stenciled in ink.
These well-designed, practical, homes were made of top quality materials. Lumber and hardware were purchased in bulk then the structural elements were cut to exact size at the mill and shipped to the customer by rail. Manufacturers claimed the pre-cut system would save the builder up to 30% compared to the cost of standard building methods.
These houses were usually not distinctive architectural designs, but copies of the most popular styles of the day. Container House designs were standardized to reduce waste in materials, but customers were encouraged to personalize their order by moving windows or doors, adding porches, fireplaces, sunrooms, window boxes, trellises, or built in cabinetry, and by selecting exterior finish and colors.