Building a Market: The Rise of the Home Improvement Industry, 1914-1960
by Richard Harris
University of Chicago Press, 2012
eISBN: 978-0-226-31768-7 | Cloth: 978-0-226-31766-3
Library of Congress Classification HD9715.U62H37 2012
Dewey Decimal Classification 338.4769024
Reference metadata exposed for Zotero via unAPI.
Richard Harris is professor of geography at McMaster University. He is the author of Unplanned Suburbs:Toronto’s American Tragedy, 1900–1950 and Creeping Conformity: How Canada Become Suburban, 1900–1960.
“While much has been written about homeownership, until now no history has explored the flip side of home owning, home repair, home maintenance, and home remodeling. In this unique, highly readable, and richly illustrated study, Richard Harris unscrambles the fascinating saga behind the building of the home improvement market. Part consumer history, part business history, and part planning and development history, Harris’s work carries us from the small lumberyards of the nineteenth and early twentieth century to Johns-Manville showrooms and the modern Home Depot. It is an illuminating and enjoyable ride.”
“Weaving together social, economic, business, and gender history, Building a Market will force scholars to rethink the nature of American home ownership, the impact of the Federal Housing Administration, and the hegemonic powers often attributed to consumer culture, mass marketing, large-scale business organization, and technological innovation. Harris reveals that market mechanisms have been the arena for a shifting interplay of individuals’ desires, industrial supply, manufacturing methods, capital and credit, and government policy. If the market system in modern society is more complex and fragmented than we have been led to believe, Building a Market reveals its power in allowing and constraining Americans to build their homes and live their lives.”
“Making judicious use of a notable array of sources—advice manuals, industry publications, government reports, popular magazines, oral interviews—Harris constructs a remarkable detailed yet very readable narrative. He documents the shifting attitudes and practices of the many players (middle-class homeowners, lumberyards, manufacturers of tools and building materials, retailers, the media, and the government) necessary to an economy and ideology of home improvement. . . . An important perspective on the American dream of home ownership. Highly recommended.”
“In an ambitious and meticulously researched work, Richard Harris explores the surprisingly understudied subject of home improvement in the United States. . . . Harris has crafted a readable work on an important topic that deserves to be widely read by scholars of business history, urban history, and social history.”— Journal of American History
“Building a Market is a scholarly book that fluently fuses broad research, a talent for teasing meaning from reluctant sources, rich contextualization drawn from a range of disciplines, economic savvy, sensitive distinctions in demographics and regional predilections, and a sympathy for different characters and situations that allows Harris to evenhandedly articulate competing points of view and thus depict history in all its opacities, uncertainties, and fitful progress. . . . Historical change is portrayed as the product of many provisional factors that are themselves responses to prior conditions and uneven flows of information, a coherent story amidst an atmosphere of contingency and flux. In the process, the single-family house moves from transcendent myth to evanescent fact, less the root of individual freedom and blossom of national character than the uncertain fruit of available goods and services. Finally, Harris is simply a good writer. His authorial voice is clear, warm, and occasionally wry. For all the detail mustered and complexity rendered, Building a Market is a pleasure to read.”