The idea of the mobile home didn’t start with Winnebago, because the Springfield Portable House came before.
The rise of industrialization in the Northeast ushered in nostalgia for and a desire to return to the wilderness — in complete comfort, of course. And so the Springfield Portable House Co. was born.
The Springfield Portable House
The house actually arrived by train or wagon, as automobiles in those days couldn’t haul even a small portable house. A cousin of the Sears kit house, the Springfield Portable House Company was aimed at the middle class. 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 expanded the line to eight models. Those included a garage, a hunting cabin and a nine-room cottage — all with a 10-year warranty.
In 1910, a moderately priced portable house went for $295. For an extra $10, you could get a floor.
The prefab structures were also pitched as portable servant’s quarters, office space, tuberculosis houses, play houses, boat houses and voting booths. They could serve as “anything that does not have to compete with the Singer Building or the Metropolitan Tower,” according to an ad.
The manufacturer, based in New York, had its factory in Springfield, Mass. For several years after 1908, the company advertised liberally in magazines that reached outdoor sports enthusiasts, campers, hikers and summer beach goers. It also displayed the house at sportsmen’s shows in New York and Boston.
“Bramley Kite, poet and sailor, says that a house is only a ship on shore,” reads another. “However, this is Bramley’s point of view. A portable house comes nearer his definition than anything we know. The Springfield Portable House Company are proving the popularity of their “ships on shore” every day.”
The Portable Company
By 1920, the portable house company moved to Keene, N.H., where it merged with the Thayer Portable House Company.
Oscar H. Thayer expanded the line to include permanent structures. He wanted to 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.
This story last updated in 2021.