Sunday, May 2, 2021

US Modular Housing Industry Predates the Civil War

I knew modular housing was older than most of us think and to learn that real modular (preassembled in a warehouse) cabins were available to be shipped by barge or steamboat before the Civil War is exciting.

The advertisement below was found on the buried Steamboat Arabia.

The above engraving represents a Portable Cottage, 14 feet 7 inches wide by 30 feet 1½ inches long, divided into two rooms, one story, 7 feet 10 inches high or the story may be made 9 feet high if desired.  It contains six windows, all glazed, with Venetian Shutters to each window.

There are three doors - two of these outsides and one inside and it is entirely constructed of wood. Sides and ceiling being composed of posts, rails and panels of uniform size. The roof is made of tongued and grooved boards, covered with paper, such as is used on fireproof roofs in cities, and painted with fire-proof paint which is sanded, and will last longer than shingles.

The perfectly simple nature of the construction enables two persons to put it together in a few hours, and take it apart again with equal ease. No apprehensions need be entertained as to their comfort in winter. From the inclemency of the weather, for from the perfect manner of their construction, they are much warmer than any other frame building.

Persons serious about purchasing can see a cottage set up, at our factory.

Hinkle, Guild & Co.
No 865 West Front Street
Cincinnati, Ohio

The Steamboat Arabia was built in West Brownsville, PA, just south of Pittsburgh, at the boatyard of John S. Pringle in 1853. At 171 feet long and capable of carrying 222 tons of cargo, she was considered an average-sized packet boat.

The 28-foot-tall paddlewheels could push the steamboat upstream at a speed of over 5 miles per hour. It was used on the Missouri River.

In 1856, five years before the American Civil War broke out 1861, Arabia hit a huge underwater snag and sunk 45 feet into a sandbar and was covered with soft mud encapsulating the entire ship keeping oxygen from rotting everything.

In 1987, it was discovered intact after years of erosion and shifting sand left the lost paddleboat 45 feet underground and a half-mile from the present channel of the Missouri River.

The excavation resulted in the discovery of the largest collection of pre-Civil War artifacts in the world.

A friend of this blog toured the Steamboat Arabia Museum and was stopped in his tracks when he saw an ad for prefabricated modular homes found on the ship.

Not only is there proof that modular housing predates the Civil War, but there were also two modular homes recorded on board when it sank.

If you visit the museum you may even see parts of the modular homes that were supposed to be on board.

Gary Fleisher is the Managing Director and contributor to the Modcoach Network and its affiliated blogs. Email at

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