Sketch comparing platform framing and balloon framing methods (C) Carson Dunlop AssociatesHistory of Pre-Cut Lumber for Rapid Building Framing - A Guide to Estimating Building Age

  • Pre-Cut Lumber Construction - CONTENTS: History of use of Pre-Cut Lumber in wood frame construction
    • Role of Leavittown in development of use of pre-cut lumber for mass-produced high-speed housing in New York & Pennsylvania, 1940's, 1950's. Photographs of building framing lumber & lumber yards, Leavittown, PA 1954. Building framing eras: log homes, balloon framing, platform framing, arkansas framing, modular construction, panelized construction, straw bale construction, welded wire construction, trusses, engineered lumber construction. Leavittown and development of mass-produced pre-cut platform framed homes
  • FRAMING METHODS, Age, Types - separate article
  • FRAMING MATERIALS, Age, Types - separate article
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about using pre-cut lumber, history, methods, identification, key to building age

This article describes and illustrates the history of use of pre-cut wood framing lumber in the development of high-speed, mass-produced housing in the United States. We describe and define the different types of dimensioned lumber: full-sized and modern (smaller) framing lumber such as rafters, studs, and joists.

This FRAMING METHODS, Age, Types article series, lists common building framing materials used in different epochs of residential construction. Knowing when certain materials were first or last in common use can help determine the age of a building. The age of a building can be determined quite accurately by documentation, but when documents are not readily available, visual clues such as those available during a professional home inspection can still determine when a house was built.

Original source of photographs used in this article: creative commons film: "Our Home Town: Leavittown, PA" a 1954 advertising film of Leavittown PA, one of the planned communities built by William Levitt & Sons.

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Pre-Cut Homes & Home Kit Construction - Early Mass Produced Housing

Pre-cut framing describes the use of dimensioned lumber that was pre-cut to standard lengths at the lumber yard where it was produced, then shipped to a building supplier or directly to a building site in order to speed, simplify, and reduce the cost of construction of homes.

Lumber being planed - Leavittown PA 1954 - DJ Friedman Lumber cutting to length - Leavittown PA 1954 - D Friedman

Before dimensioned, pre-cut lumber was in widespread use on construction jobsites, lumber was often dimensioned and rough-cut, or cut to order at local lumber yards and building suppliers.

Leavittown PA lumber yard 1954 - Daniel Friedman

On the job every rafter, stud, sill-plate was either used in random lengths flat (sills) or cut to standard lengths for stud framing.

Currently at major building suppliers such as Home Depot and Loews, it would be difficult to not to find standard dimensioned lumber sold pre-cut to standard residential construction lengths.

In a "standard" wood-framed residential home, roughly 15,000 board feet of lumber is used. Site-built stick-framed homes (see Platform Framing) are constructed almost entirely of pre-cut lumber, perhaps excepting cuts necessary to frame around building openings and features.

Leavittown New York Pre-Cut Lumber Constructed Homes

According to the Leavittown Historical Society, the default of the Strathmore development project by a Rockville Centre Long Island developer in the 1930's Great Depression forced lawyer and real estate investor Abraham Levitt to take over and complete development of the project even though he and his sons were not trained in construction.

That experience led to Levitt & Sons successful bid on a Navy contract to building homes for shipyard workers in Norfolk, VA where they perfected the techniques used for high-speed, low-cost, mass production of homes built in what became Leavittown at the end of World War II.

On Long Island, in Island Trees, a golden nematode infestation that wiped out much of the area's potato crop led to farmers' selling off land in order to survive.

Returning GI, Leavittown PA 1954

The combination of a surge in demand for housing for returning GI's from WWII, low-cost land on Long Island, and Leavitt & Son's expertise in mass-produced housing formed a perfect marriage when William Leavitt proposed to his father that the Island Trees land be divided into small lots on which could be built modest, inexpensive homes.

In May 1947 the Leavitts announced the plan to mass-produce 2000 rental homes. In two days, 1000 of the proposed homes had already been rented.

Thousands of identical wood-framed homes were built on a concrete slab on grade (no basement or crawl space), and were modest in size. According to author Gail Collins,

"In the beginning, the newly constructed dream houses were, by our current standards, very small. (In the famous Leavittown development on Long Island, the basic house was a 750-square-foot, four room Cape Cod with one bath and two bedrooms."

The following description of this early and very successful use of mass production methods to construct homes is quoted from Leavittown Historical Society:

In order to build their homes cheaper and faster, Levitt and Sons decided to eliminate basements and build their new homes on concrete slabs, as they had in Norfolk, Virginia.

This practice was prohibited in the Town Of Hempstead, but, because the need for housing was so urgent, the Town modified the Building Code to allow the Leavitts to proceed with their plan.

Leavittown PA ranch home - Daniel Friedman

Levitt and Sons used many of the building methods they had used over the years in previous developments, but reorganized these methods for even better efficiency and cost savings. All of the lumber was precut and shipped from a lumber yard they owned in Blue Lake, California, where they erected a nail factory as well.

An abandoned rail line was re-opened to bring construction materials to Island Trees. To keep costs down, non-union contractors were used, a move met with heavy opposition. The production line technique used to build this new development was so successful that, by July of 1948, the Levitts were turning out thirty houses a day.

... This success continued throughout 1950 and 1951, by which time the  Levitts had constructed 17,447 homes in Levittown and the immediate surrounding areas.  

In 1949 the Leavitts changed from constructing rental homes to building slightly larger 800 sq.ft. ranch houses that were sold for $7,990.

These homes also were constructed on concrete slabs, but incorporated radiant slab heating. (See RADIANT HEAT).

The last of the 17,447 Leavittown homes was built in 1951.

Leavittown PA, a similar housing development was completed in the mid 1950's in Bucks County PA - the source of photos used in this article.

Black worker, bamboo blind Co., Leavittown PA 1954 (C) D FriedmanFor a description of the role that this mass-produced housing project played in the American civil rights movement, also see Levittown: Two Families, One Tycoon... by Kushner. Quoting from part of an review of this text:

As shocking as the story of Levittown is, I couldn't help but ponder a message that defines the generations and races of even today: (nearly) everyone has a dream they hope to attain. Bill Levitt, in the eyes of the (white) nation and Levittown residents was living the American dream: huge house, gorgeous wives, big boat and he was (viewed as) generous.

Bill Myers and his family sought the American dream as they saw it: to own property and live freely. Levitt reflected the times of that period in America.

Yet, consider how individual groups think of their American dream today - think of it in terms of black and white - it almost makes you wonder how far we have not come. That's the one thing I really loved about this book: it made me think.

Also see Log Home Construction (modern log home kits), and see Sears Kit Houses for a great example of pre-cut constructed homes.

Also see Sears Kit Houses (Sears kit homes used pre-cut lumber), and see these two subsequent factory-housing methods: Panelized Construction and Modular Construction.

Also see ARCHITECTURE & BUILDING COMPONENT ID and Framing Materials Age for the history and date ranges of various building framing materials.

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