Lustron houses were part of a post-World War II prefabricated housing experiment that combined innovative industrial design with efficient mass-production. As veterans returned home from the war, new houses needed to be built quickly. In response, engineer Carl Strandlund invented the Lustron home, deriving its name from “luster on steel.”
Originally introduced in the 1930s, porcelain-enameled steel was a unique material to use in building conventional homes. In this process, sand and glass were baked onto steel sheets, providing a lasting finish. Individual enameled squares were fastened to a steel frame, which was bolted to a concrete slab.
From 1948 to 1950, the one-story ranch houses were built by the Lustron Corp. at the former Curtiss-Wright Corp. aircraft factory on the east side of Columbus. My grandfather was one of Lustron’s foremen in the plumbing division. Here’s his pin that he earned while working for Mr. Strandlund.
After local contractors prepared the lot for the house, a truck and trailer hauled the house’s parts to the site, where they were assembled.
Lustron homes featured a gabled roof, a bay window and a side porch. Inside, they were cleverly designed, making use of every available space. They often featured a combination dishwasher/clothes washer, a ceiling-based radiant heat system, and steel interior pocket doors. It also offered low maintenance, since it just needed a damp cloth to keep it clean.
One of the homes that Lustron Corp. produced before it went bankrupt in 1950 was the dove-grey “Westchester” home that has been completely re-assembled inside one of the Ohio History Center’s exhibit galleries.
To celebrate the opening of the exhibition, flapjack flippers from Chris Cakes of Ohio served their gourmet stoneground whole wheat pancakes to 600 Ohio Historical Society members. Downstairs, an interpreter dressed as the “Welcome Wagon” lady stood near an an Airstream trailer hooked up to a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air and invited us to stroll through the home of new neighbors “Bob and Dotty.”
Inside the 1949 two-bedroom home, you can sit on vintage furniture while listening to 1950s television programs and Dave Brubeck records. You can peer inside built-in drawers and closets to see table linens, clothes and canned goods from the era. You can play with a Viewfinder and talk on a rotary-dial telephone while admiring Paint-By-Number creations hung on the walls with magnets. In the home’s side yard, you can try hula-hooping around a bomb-shelter hatch.
In other exhibit areas, museumgoers can read interpretive panels and watch videos capturing people’s memories of the 1950s. For example, John Glenn and Greg Lashutka, former mayor of Columbus, describe the Korean War. They can also admire wedding presents that were popular during the decade.
In “Dotty’s Corner” of the museum gift shop, you can purchase 1950s-themed items, such as paper products featuring Hilda Glasgow’s vintage fashion illustrations.
For more on Lustron, check out The Lustron Home: The History of a Postwar Prefabricated Housing Experiment, by Thomas T. Fetters. Also, track down a copy of “Lustron Homes Keep Their Luster for Owners,” an article I wrote for the February 20, 2004 issue of Business First’s special publication, HomeFront. The Ohio Historical Society’s collection includes the Lustron Corporation’s records (MSS 861 AV), containing advertisements, correspondence, newspaper clippings, press releases and reports spanning the years from 1946 to 1982.
“Lustron House #549 — Reconstructed Inside the Ohio Historical Society — Opens July 13” is a blog post by Retro Renovation that describes what it took to reassemble the house.
During a recent episode of All Sides with Ann Fisher, the Ohio Historic Preservation Office’s Barbara Powers and Steve McLoughlin, president of the Whitehall Historical Society, talk about the Lustron home and its impact on the housing shortage of the 1950s. Curator Cameron Wood describes what it was like to recreate the Lustron home inside the museum. Click here to listen to the radio program.
If you’re a fan of the Fifties, come to the Ohio History Center on Saturday, July 20 at 2:00 pm for “1950s Recipes: Jell-O Salad to Green Bean Casserole.” During this program, you’ll learn about how the arrival of packaged, processed and frozen foods resulted in some strange concoctions, like lime Jell-O with green olives, celery and tuna.