Throughout the history of the firm, and in particular in the years preceding World War II, the Aladdin Company sought to diversify itself. Below we explore seven diversification attempts. These efforts proved, at best, marginally profitable. Ultimately the company's main and most profitable product was the pre-cut houses it sold to individuals.
Commercial and Overseas Sales
Although the Sovereign Brothers initially sold homes to individuals, they soon realized that a secondary commercial market existed. Particularly in remote areas, "company towns" constructed at the firm's expense were common. By 1916 Aladdin had made several large group sales to manufacturers seeking housing for workers. With America's entry into World War I demand for worker housing soared. Many companies found that Aladdin homes, with their low prices and easy assembly, well met their needs.
Perhaps the most storied of Aladdin's group sales was made by the Austin Motor Company in Birmingham, England. In November 1916 Austin purchased two hundred modified "Chester" houses. The houses were loaded on the SS Headley, but were lost when the ship was sunk by a German submarine. In March 1917 a second shipment of two hundred homes was sent from New York, this time arriving safely in England. By June 1917 all two hundred homes had been erected. These homes still stand in Birmingham, an isolated island of Midwestern American architecture dropped into the British countryside. The homes narrowly survived German bombs during World War II. Today they are listed on the British Historic Register. A second overseas venture occurred in 1918 when an abridged version of the Aladdin catalog was printed in French and was distributed in Paris. The French venture, however, apparently proved unprofitable.
Hoping to stimulate more group sales in the United States, in 1920 and again in 1921 Aladdin published a specialized "Industrial Housing" catalog. The 1920 catalog featured the homes purchased by the Austin Company as well as those purchased by DuPont, and argued that Aladdin homes had met the needs of these two companies as well as over three hundred other firms whose names were printed in the catalog.
The 1920 catalog offered six complete "cities." The cities included water treatment plants, lighting systems, and even landscape plantings for streets. The cities ranged in size from the 300 person "Bessemer" to the 274 acre, 3,000 strong "Sovereign City."
It is unlikely the Aladdin ever actually sold a complete city. Aladdin had sold all of the elements included in these cities to various corporate and governmental customers, but they never seem to have sold an entire city package to one customer. Perhaps recognizing this fact, the 1920 catalog did not really describe the city packages in any detail but rather quickly moved from the full size cities to describe a wide variety of individual structures for sale. Most prominent were forty-eight homes; mostly small, low-cost models advertised as "worker" homes.
In addition the catalog offered a number of community buildings such as a hotel, dining hall, boarding house, general store, bank, warehouse, school, and church.
The 1921 catalog was less grand but more accurately reflected Aladdin's market. The industrial cities were gone and the focus was on inexpensive, worker homes. These ranged from the "Gem," a very modest one hundred sixty square foot, two room structure, through nine other structures, the largest being the four room Hecla, a 784 square foot dwelling. The modest character of these ten houses was indicated by their small size and lack of indoor plumbing. Most of the community buildings were also gone, with only a boarding house, bunk house, and dining hall available.
Although Aladdin continued to sell groups of homes to various customers for many years its effort to establish an industrial catalog was unsuccessful. The 1921 industrial catalog was the last of its kind. Thereafter Aladdin relied on its annual homes catalog for both individual and group sales.