Post-war housing in America consisted mostly of pre-fab, homogenous bungalows that look depressingly similar. In addition, the general population was starting the mass exodus to the suburbs and needed the housing in order to do so. The population was increasing while available housing wasn’t. This is where the Levitt brothers stepped in. They were around before the war, but their proliferation of housing didn’t really burgeon until World War II. Before the war, Levitt and Sons built mostly luxury houses. During the war, however, they realized it would be more profitable for them to build cheaper, mass-produced houses quickly and easily. They built over two thousand units for the Navy, which is how they got their feet wet in the mass-production business.
When it’s all said and done, between 1946 and 1960, the Levitts built three communities comprised of more than 17,000 homes. The Levitts built thirty homes a day, which didn’t keep up with demand. They were able to produce so many homes so quickly in thanks to the assembly-line process which had developed over time. Trucks developed identical parcels to each lot, and everything was done in the same manner. Call it the McDonalds of housing if you will, it got the job done. The Levitts also used non-union labor, which was another reason they were able to work so quickly.
They did what they could to keep costs low, including buying their own timberland and building their own mill. They saved up to forty percent on timber by going to such extremes. The housing wasn’t shoddy, however, but just replete with creative solutions such as walls made of rockboard rather than plaster and floors made of plaster rather than hard wood.
The downside to all this was the similarity of the houses. Every house looked the same as did the occupants who lived in them. In some ways, they were gated communities of their time before such a thing became fashionable. The first black family in a Levitt community was faced with burning crosses on their lawn and racial strife, but that eventually subsided and other black families moved in. On the surface, everything was back to normal in the Levitt communities.
The bottom line is that even though the houses were decried, many people were eager to buy a Levitt home simply because they wanted to be homeowners and a Levitt home was the most affordable.