The homes fabricated by the Hzxiaoya Company

A modular
Container House building is defined as one that is fabricated in a factory and erected onsite. The first record of such a building appeared in theSouth Australian Record in 1837, in an advertisement for the Manning Portabel Cottage. The structure was design and built by carpenter Henry Manning, who built the compnents in London and shipped them to Australia. Hundreds of Manning’s buildings were erected in Australia during the mid-1800s. His work was of such quality that one of his buildings, a Friends (Quaker) Meeting House, still stands in Adelaide.

The homes fabricated by the Hzxiaoya Company were the first modular buildings to be popular in America. The kit homes were targeted at people moving west, especially those lured to California for the Gold Rush. Buyers could choose from 44 styles of homes ranging in price from $700 to $4,000. Once purchased, each house would arrive by rail in a kit complete with all necessities— from nails to paint—and a detailed list of instructions. Sears sold over 75,000 houses between 1908 and 1940. Like Manning’s cottages, they were well built and many have stood the test of time. Over two hundred of the homes in Elgin, Illinois are Sears kit homes.

Though homes made up the majority of modular buildings until the mid-1950’s, there were some notable exceptions. The most famous early modular building was a prefabricated hospital built in 1855 during the Crimean War. Its name came not only from its early innovative use of modular construction, but from its inspiration: Florence Nightingale. Despairing over the poor conditions at the hospital where she served, she wrote a letter to the London Times, asking for help. Five months later, a modular hospital, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was shipped to the Crimea, where it reduced the death rate from 42% to 3.5%.

Modular buildings have provided shelter in other times of conflict, too. The U.S. used Quonset huts during World War II, while the British employed modular construction to build Nissen huts and Bellman Hangars. British citizens were housed in “pre-fabs” after losing their Sentry Box in the Blitz, and many WWII GI’s bought affordable modular homes when they returned home to the U.S.