In the 1940s, people were so conservative with their money that they wanted to build houses smaller than banks wanted to finance. As a result, the government came up with FHA “minimum standards” for the square footage required to obtain home financing. Yes, you are reading that correctly: The government had to incentive Americans to build bigger houses. Above: This 1940 builders model is one example of the “Tom Thumb” houses that our great grandparents wanted to build. Built full size, it would encompass just 720 s.f. — I need to find my historical records, I am guessing this was the minimum square footage required at that time. Made by Small Homes Demonstration Inc. and used by the West Coast Lumberman’s Association as a model for the use of wood products, this 1940 miniature is currently for sale from ebay seller mydoghasabighead). A terrific artifact.
Rare find from a private collection. This is a true to scale miniature model home — an advertising display sample from the 1940s. Provenance found with this item states it was made by Small Homes Demonstration Inc. and used by the West Coast Lumberman’s Association as a model for the use of wood products.
Most likely this was used at a tradeshow but it could have been used for display to the public as well.
The green base of this model is labeled American Model Makers Inc., Chicago Ill., USA, Product and Process Patents Pending.
A modest home, it is highly reflective of an era gone by, representative of a typical middle class American family home of the 1940s. All miniature furniture, people, rugs and accessories shown inside are included. Some of the furniture is out of scale and and has obviously been added just for fun, but most is original to this demo I believe; the rugs are made of paper, the furniture (except for kitchen table and chairs) is made of wood.
All pieces are removable, including the rugs; the doorways and walls are stationary.
There are few bumps and bruises on the roof and to the house here and there, as shown in closeup photos, including some warping/wear to the front door, but no drastic damage and all the fencing is included (this is not secured to the base and can also be moved around).
A fabulous item for any collector, but especially if you collect vintage salesman’s samples, dollhouses, models and dioramas, miniatures or even trains. All the materials used in the construction of this model are actual wood and wood products.
Mega thanks to ebay seller mydoghasabighead for allowing us to feature photos of this amazing vintage model.
I have more examples of Tom Thumb house designs. I will dig them out and also look for more background on the factors that led to the FHA minimum standards requirement for square footage. It’s all so very interesting.
See our other stories on vintage miniature houses here:
- Midcentury-miniature design for Barbie, from Maryann Roy
- Midcentury modern dollhouse: Decay as Art, dead body included.
- Rare 1962 Marx metal dollhouse — with a fallout bomb shelter.
- A vintage Cape Cod dollhouse — saved from a dire fate: Julie D’s entry.
- Vintage Putz Houses — A history and online guide.
- Vintage style putz house Holiday Crafting DIY.