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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Nov 20, 2023

This episode of Here's History explores an idea that never quite caught on, namely prefabricated houses made entirely out of steel. The idea seemed enticing, creating maintenance free homes that cost much less than a standard home, which could be built quickly. But, The Lustron Corporation of Columbus, Ohio went broke just a few years after putting up the first one in 1947.  Just press play to hear the whole story. ------

Click on search links to explore episodes with related content:  Andrew Wanko, Housing, Business, Engineering, ------


Podcast Transcript: I’m Andrew Wanko, Public Historian of the Missouri Historical Society, and Here’s History on 88-one, KDHX.------

A maintenance free home. For anyone who has ever found themselves hours deep in an unexpected home repair project, the thought is tantalizing. Back in 1947, the Lustron Corporation of Columbus, Ohio believed they had achieved a maintenance-free home with a bold new product - a house made entirely out of steel, from the walls, to the roof shingles, to the kitchen cabinets. And between 1947 and 1950, dozens of people in the St. Louis area had one of these exciting new Lustron homes built. ------

The Lustron was the brainchild of inventor Carl Strandlund, who came up with the idea for all-metal homes after manufacturing steel wall panels for gas stations. His Lustron houses consisted of more than 3,000 prefabricated metal parts, which all could fit onto a single delivery truck. ------

A team of eight people could build an entire Lustron in less than a week, and the price tag of $9,000 was 25 percent less than a comparable wood frame home. There were certainly drawbacks, like having to use powerful magnets to hang things on the walls, but those problems seemed minuscule against the promise of never dealing with termites, painting, or new roofing again. ------

Nearly 2,500 Lustron homes were built around the United States, but the experiment never found the footing needed to take off. The company lost money with every house that went up, and 20 months after its founding, the Lustron Corporation folded. Today, hunting down still-standing examples of these quirky metal homes has become a pastime among architecture lovers. ------

It’s not exactly certain how many Lustrons still stand in the St. Louis region today, but more than fifty have been identified. There are at least six in St. Louis City, Webster Groves and Brentwood each have about ten, and others stand in Florissant, St. Charles, and Belleville. The easiest way to spot them is by their telltale square wall panels. Coated in an enamel glaze of either surf blue, dove gray, maize yellow, or desert tan, they often shine just as brightly as they did in 1947. ------

Here’s history is a joint production of the Missouri History Museum and KDHX.  I’m Andrew Wanko and this is 88.1 KDHX St. Louis.