15 Milestones
Photograph by Brown Brothers
Our home might still be our castle, but as the 20th century came to an end it is clear that methods of design, construction and even acquisition of the American dream are dramatically different from how things were done a century ago. On the surface, it's easy to assume the differences are simply a matter of technology's foray into the home, and indeed a fair amount of our living environment is consumed by tokens of scientific achievement. But just as our homes are a reflection of ourselves, so too can our communities of homes be considered a reflection of our culture as a whole. Perhaps regrettably, tract housing and sprawling suburbs are among the century's most notable contributions to housing's legacy. But elements of housing we consider commonplace—grass yards, large windows and roomy backyards— were equally foreign concepts to all but the wealthiest of home buyers in the 19th century. Even the very fact 68 percent of Americans now own their home is startlingly different from the situation of less than 100 years ago. To find out just how much the American home has changed over the century, we called on Chrysanthe Broikos, an associate curator at the National Building Museum; Carolyn Goldstein, whose book Do It Yourself examines home repair in the 20th century; David Shayt, an occupational history and hand tool specialist at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History; Joel Tarr, a professor of history and politics at Carnegie Mellon University; and Bill Yeingst, a specialist in domestic life at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. While the sheer number of important changes to the housing industry during the 1900s could compose volumes, 15 milestones stand apart as having had the greatest impact on housing in the 20th century.
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