She's not a brick house
December 3, 2008 6:06 PM   Subscribe

Thomas Edison's Concrete Houses From 1902 to roughly 1917, Edison was in the concrete business, and concrete houses would be one of his biggest failures.

Shown here and here as models, Edison promised that they would be the salvation of the slum-dweller, priced at $1000 each (a third the cost of a new home at the time). He even made concrete furniture.

Many of the houses still stand on Ingersoll Terrace," Union, NJ.
posted by klangklangston (37 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thomas Edison bequeathed more to his fellow men than any other American of the 20th century.

That is all.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:11 PM on December 3, 2008


Coincidentally, I learned today that Edison proposed to his wife using Morse code, and that she replied in the same fashion. I am unsure if that makes Edison cooler or lamer, but I like the story.
posted by AndrewStephens at 6:15 PM on December 3, 2008


Thomas Edison bequeathed more to his fellow men than any other American of the 20th century.

And one of the most notorious pissants of the 20th century. (Exhibit 1: his asinine behavior during the war of currents).
posted by mynameisluka at 6:23 PM on December 3, 2008


Um, add a "was" in there somewhere.

Great post, klangklangston!
posted by mynameisluka at 6:25 PM on December 3, 2008


The Edison Museum
not open to the public
Its haunted towers rise into the clouds above it
Folks drive in from out of town to gaze in amazement when they see it
Just outside the gate, I look into the courtyard
Underneath the gathering thunderstorm
Through the iron bars, I see the Black Mariah
Revolving slowly on its platform
In the topmost tower, a light burns dim
A coiling filament glowing within
posted by chuckdarwin at 6:30 PM on December 3, 2008 [6 favorites]


Even though it was a failure, I love the genesis of this idea. Creating a pleasant-looking and sturdy house for cheap. It was what Wright was doing with his Usonian houses. They were not only interested in aesthetics but in social justice and the like. Probably Wright more than Edison. So what the hell are the modern-day "starchitects" doing with their lives? Where they hell are the "Frank Gehry promises $70K 2,000 sq. foot house!" headlines? It seems like such a waste of talent and influence for these superstar architects to simply build art museums and educational buildings. Maybe it has to do with the fact that architects now are associated with urbanity and density. Still, I would like to see Rem Koolhaas design some cool pole barns for farmers in Nebraska, simply because he thinks it would be cool. Or whatever.

To be fair, Brad Pitt is arguably trying to do something like this in New Orleans. But he's not really designing the buildings, just promoting them.
posted by billysumday at 6:33 PM on December 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


"As to concrete dogs to stand warningly in the front yard and concrete cats to purr stonily under a concrete kitchen range, he made no announcement."

Hahahaha
posted by Corduroy at 6:36 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Housing for the masses?....

The Flatpack House - still quite pricey, but would become way more affordable as they become popular.

The shipping container home. Courtesy of a Notre Dame grad (Go Irish!), and friends.

Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion House.

(The Dymaxion Car was pretty cool too!)
posted by ecorrocio at 6:47 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think your map link was maybe supposed to be: this?
posted by maxwelton at 6:53 PM on December 3, 2008


grr extra quote mark

Billysumday—Actually, one of the complaints was that Edison was no architect. To paraphrase a knock from Collier's (which I was unfortunately unable to locate online), what people in the slums wanted wasn't cheapness, but rather beauty. There are also a fair number of "avant" architects that do design for cheap, modular living. I think Ikea just co-opts them.
posted by klangklangston at 6:53 PM on December 3, 2008


Nice post, by the way. It's interesting how Edison and the company that took on his designs actually delivered an inexpensive house, whereas all of the promises for stylish cheap houses these days end up costing more than stick-built ones, for the most part.

I was very excited about maybe doing a "modern" pre-fab house on our property but they're all outrageously expensive.
posted by maxwelton at 6:57 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Here in Puerto Rico, everybody builds in concrete. Two reasons: wood's damned expensive when you're this far from Canada, and concrete is much better in hurricanes. I would also say we don't have to heat them, but since we do have to cool them, that's a wash.

The architecture's not too dazzling, of course, tending towards your basic tropical-colored Bauhaus, but still. It's a data point.
posted by Michael Roberts at 7:20 PM on December 3, 2008


And one of the most notorious pissants of the 20th century. (Exhibit 1: his asinine behavior during the war of currents).

[clicks link... scans...]
Edison carried out a campaign to discourage the use of alternating current, including spreading information on fatal AC accidents, publicly killing animals...
[blanches... sickens...]

Did not know that.

Well, if men survive, they'll look back on plenty of our practices with horror as well. So as not to cast the first stone, I'll just say I appreciate the lightbulbs.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:33 PM on December 3, 2008


There was an episode about this on The History Detectives
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:58 PM on December 3, 2008


You totally beat me to it....Damn.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 8:03 PM on December 3, 2008


I blame the big bad wolf lobby.

Man, I'd like to appreciate a light bulb.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:18 PM on December 3, 2008


Fantastic post. What a great read.
posted by Happydaz at 8:27 PM on December 3, 2008


And one of the most notorious pissants of the 20th century. (Exhibit 1: his asinine behavior during the war of currents).

Here's a documentary on that subject.
posted by katillathehun at 9:11 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have seen a couple of ICF homes go up and if I was to build a new home it would probably be concrete.
posted by arse_hat at 9:16 PM on December 3, 2008


[blanches... sickens...]

Did not know that.


Yeah, you should read up on him. He was a real prick.
posted by mediareport at 9:38 PM on December 3, 2008


Man out of time, indeed. Oh wait.
posted by dhammond at 10:32 PM on December 3, 2008


Affordable housing for the working class was one of Ayn Rand's über-architect Howard Roark's big projects in The Fountainhead, written decades later.
posted by Harald74 at 12:00 AM on December 4, 2008


A wondrous place it is, there can be no doubt. But no one ever goes in and no one ever comes out!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:20 AM on December 4, 2008


Be it known that I , Thomas Alva Edison, a citizen of the United States, residing in LLewellyn Park, Orange, county of Essex, in the State of New Jersey, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Processes of Constructing Concrete Buildings..

Original patent.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:15 AM on December 4, 2008


Monolithic domes made with shotcrete.
posted by mandal at 4:25 AM on December 4, 2008


See also.
posted by ericbop at 6:45 AM on December 4, 2008


Say what you will, but they're likely to outlive any of those shoddy "McMansions" that were being thrown up during the housing bubble.
posted by tommasz at 7:19 AM on December 4, 2008


Another advantage of concrete houses that Edison wanted to make use of was that they didn't go up like a box of matchsticks when you wired them for DC electrical current, which is company had the monopoly on at the time. One disadvantage that DC current had to AC current was that peoples houses kept burning down.

Go look it up. Another part of the War of Currents.
posted by daq at 8:46 AM on December 4, 2008


There was one of these right around the corner from where I went to middle school in Montclair, NJ. Our seventh grade history teacher pointed it out when he took us on an architectural field trip around the neighborhood in the last days of the school year. Pretty neat stuff.
posted by teferi at 9:43 AM on December 4, 2008


Cracked took on Edison as one of the most Famous Inventors (Who Stole Their Big Idea), and I've never really liked him because of the whole Tesla and the let's electrocute an elephant to prove a point things, but I will give credit, I've always thought the concrete house idea was gold.

It's a real pity that it didn't get traction. I'd like to see what the world where cheap, extremely reliable housing had been available and common since 1902.
posted by quin at 10:21 AM on December 4, 2008


There's about 18 of these still standing in Newark, OH.
They were built around 1915 and are all still in excellent shape.
posted by flipyourwig at 10:25 AM on December 4, 2008


I recently took my daughter to see the Tesla prototype AC electric motor in the Smithsonian American History Museum. She was not at all interested. I thought surely kids would grasp the importance of the "war of the currents" by 20 months but all she wanted was more fucking goldfish.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:34 AM on December 4, 2008


Joe Beese: Thomas Edison bequeathed more to his fellow men than any other American of the 20th century.

This doesn't sound right - do you have a source? I'd guess the Rockefellers or Howard Hughes gave more.
posted by Pronoiac at 1:31 PM on December 4, 2008


This is not my concrete house! This is not my concrete wife!

I worked on a documentary about the history of Recorded Sound and had to shoot a lot of B-rolls of the spooky abandoned mansions all along Edison, NJ. I also had to dig through boxes and boxes of old Edisoniana to collect and select images for scanning while trying not to totally loose it around the witty Historical adviser who in retrospect was probably trying to sleep with me but I didn't notice cause I was 17 and an idiot.


Yet! despite being knee in Edison while in Edison, I never knew he did concrete houses! Fascinating!
posted by The Whelk at 4:15 PM on December 4, 2008


Mary Parker lost her house in Gulfport, Mississippi to Katrina. CNN interviewed her. Two entrepreneurs who had been studying Edison's concept saw her on TV and decided to build her a new house. Out of concrete. YouTube / self-link
posted by hal9k at 4:33 PM on December 4, 2008


klang, I am never reading you library books aloud again! I declare you an idea thief.
posted by holyrood at 4:43 PM on December 4, 2008


I DID THE GOOGLE!

(Besides, you never post!)
posted by klangklangston at 5:50 PM on December 4, 2008


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