Business and Labor

Before the Winnebago There Was the Springfield Portable House

The idea of the mobile home didn’t start with Winnebago, because the Springfield Portable House came before.

The rise of industrialization and cities in the Northeast was accompanied by a nostalgia and a desire to return to the wilderness — in complete comfort, of course. And the Springfield Portable House Co. was born.

Springfield portable houseFor several years after 1908, the company advertised liberally in magazines that reached outdoor sports enthusiasts, campers, hikers and summer beach goers.

Its pitch was simple. The summer home — with all the comforts — was available to you. Two unskilled men (sometimes three) could assemble a completely weather-tight, dust proof comfortable house for a summer getaway anywhere. And they could disassemble it and move it elsewhere just as easily.

The company, based in Springfield, Mass., made eight models, including a garage, a hunting cabin and a nine-room cottage — all with a 10-year warranty.

The prefab structures were pitched as portable servant’s quarters, office space or even play houses.

Springfield Portable House color“Makes you as independent as the tent-dwelling Arab. It gives you a cozy, inexpensive summer home, rent free and private, yet as movable as a big trunk,” read the promotional copy.

By 1920, the portable house company moved to Keene, N.H., where it was merged into the Thayer Portable House Company.

Oscar H. Thayer expanded the line to include structures that were intended to be permanent and compete with the popular kit houses made by Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Montgomery Ward.

Like the Sears homes, the Thayer line died out in the 1940s.

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