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The history of Armstrong Flooring’s Pattern #5352 — the best-selling resilient flooring pattern of the 20th Century

Armstrong flooring making linoleum“The Christmas pattern” … “the mysterious Mr. McClurg” … 42 million yards sold in the first 40 years …  These are hints at just a few of the things I learned about Armstrong Flooring’s famous 5352 pattern when I talked about its history with company designer Mark Zeamer. Mark played a key role in the company’s 2020 revival of this storied pattern. He has worked for the company for 44 years, and he did historical research to prepare the revival, so he also was the perfect person to ask: Was Armstrong Flooring pattern #5352 the best-selling resilient flooring of the 20th Century? His answer: A resounding: Yes! Above: An early photo — possibly from the 1930s — of a production line making #5352 linoleum, photo courtesy Armstrong Flooring.

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Designed in 1932 by the mysterious Mr. McClurg

5352 as shown in a 1935 catalog. Building Technology Heritage Library Collection

In my 2013 story about #5352, readers piped in that they had seen this flooring in use as early as 1935. Close! Mark Zeamer confirms that the pattern was original introduced in 1932 as an embossed inlaid linoleum. The company continued to sell 5352 as inlaid linoleum for some 40 years. And:

“For a long time only one color – red,” he said

Mark told me that there is a huge, framed piece of the original product in the company’s Lancaster, Pa., office hallway leading up to the second floor. (I will ask for a photo of the piece to add to this story — Mark is working remotely right now.)

The plaque next to it says the pattern was designed by a “Mr. McClurg.” Mark also found McClurg’s surname mentioned in an old pattern book. Mark said he tried to do more research on Mr. McClurg, but the trail quickly went cold. No first name could be found. Mark and team think he must not have been a lifelong employee. A mystery!

UPDATE: Very quickly after I posted this story on Facebook, reader Kim jumped into action and found our Mr. McClurg in the 1930 Census public record. She wrote: “I found John E. McClurg in the 1930 Census in Lancaster. He was 45 years old, born in New York, married to wife Edith. His occupation is listed as designer, linoleum plant.” Additional Census research indicates that by 1940, he was living up North as a carpet designer. Well done, Kim!

I have said before that #5352 must have been the best-selling resilient flooring design of the 20th Century. True, I asked Mark? “Absolutely – I have no doubt about that,” he said.

From 1932 to 1972 alone, the company says they sold more than 42 million yards of pattern #5352. And, production continued for another 28 years after that!

Prior to 1932: “Embossed Inlaid Designs — Unusual Texture Effects”

1931 embossed inlaid linoleum armstrong
No sign of 5352 in this 1931 brochure. But lookie these eye-catching inlaid linoleums! Building Technology Heritage Library MBJ Collection.

Sunday night I went through all the vintage Armstrong catalogs online in the Building Technology Heritage Library. Indeed, in 1931, there was no mention of #5352. You do see, though, that the idea of inlaid linoleum designed to look like a mosaic tile floor was well under way.

Mr. McClurg’s 1932 genius: “A continuous, smooth transgression of design”

What Mr. McClurg did so brilliantly, was to create a classic random block mosaic flooring pattern that mixed sizes and colors in a particularly pleasing, timeless way. The flooring also was embossed — pressed with a plate that depresses parts of the design to further mimic the texture of a real tile floor.

why embossed linoleum

armstrong 5352 embossed inlaid linoleum
Above: Hazel Dell Brown explains #5352 in 1944’s “Ideas for Old Rooms and New”. Building Technology Heritage Library Collection
armstrong linoleum 1935
An early image of 5352 in use, from Hazel Dell Brown’s 1935 “The story of five dream kitchens”. Building Technology Heritage Collection MBJ Collection

Regarding the design of 5352, Mark said, “I think it’s a fantastic pattern and like how it comes to the forefront then fades away then comes back to the forefront again.” 

He also said, “It looks great coming down the line, there’s no tracking at all… there’s a continuous, smooth transgression of design.”

What’s tracking? Mark explained this means that no single design element sticks out over the other. The design is so good you don’t see the repeat.

As time progressed, inlaid linoleum was replaced by other flooring technologies

Armstrong-5352-linoleum
Reader Hannah received two rolls from a friend, who found them in her basement, and shared her treasure via on our Facebook page.

Mark told me, “The 5352 pattern lasted a long time in many different commodities, starting out in linoleum to Coronelle to felt-backed Imperial Solarian and then jumped to vinyl into the 1970’s. It was in the 70’s that it was revived as a Rotogravure printed product in Sheet Goods and Tile.”

Around this time was when the printed design started looking a little like pointillism – ummm, not as good as the earlier designs. Hey, it was the 70s — lots of stuff didn’t look as good. Circa 1975, there also was a Colonial Classic Designer Solarium that was stenciled. I forgot to ask, but my sense is that it looked better because of the production process.

armstrong 5352 linoleum
Armstrong Flooring today calls this the “purple red” 5352 colorway. I am guessing the photo is from the 1980s. Photo courtesy Armstrong Flooring.

“We sold Colonial Classic Designer Solarium almost up to year 2000,” Mark said. However, by 2000, at $35 per sq. yard, the customer base was getting smaller. In addition, Armstrong was tearing down an old part of the Lancaster, Pennsylvania plant that made the flooring. So, after 68 years of continuous production, the line was finally discontinued. Even so, Mark said, “When we dropped it, there was a lot of noise.” In particular, the pattern had remained popular in the Northeast.

armstrong 5351 - green
The other colors seem to have had different numbers — This 1955 green design was #5351. Building Technology Heritage Library MBJ Collection.
armstong pattern 5352 brown
Julie posted this photo of her brown 5352 on our Facebook page. I quite like it! Thanks, Julie, for permission to add this to our archive!
armstrong flooring 5252 yellow orange
Denise posted this photo of the vintage Armstrong Flooring #5352 in her kitchen on our Retro Renovation Facebook page. Thanks for permission to show it here, Denise! Such a happy colorway!
avocado kitchen floor
Jon and Trixi’s kitchen had the green 5352, plus an extra roll that came with the house. Photos by Glenn Suckow and Trixi Hunt

As decades passed, Armstrong also introduced the pattern in other colors. “Some people had it in brown,” Mark said. “We had avocado and harvest gold in late 60s. In the 70s, bright yellow and bright orange.”

Note, Armstrong told me that pattern has never really gone away – they still occasionally hear from distributors who have new old stock stashed away!

Armstrong 5352: “The Christmas Pattern”

Where to Use #5352 in 1940: Kitchens, bathrooms, entrance halls, living-rooms, dining rooms, sun porches, studies, recreation rooms, libraries, breakfast rooms, rear entries….small stores, beauty parlors, restaurants, clubhouses, hotel and apartment lobbies, barber shops, tourist cabins.” Building Technology Heritage Library MBJ Collection.

On our phone call, Mark also mentioned a fascinating company story about 5352: At Armstrong, employees know it as “The Christmas Pattern.”

The story is, that during the Great Depression, companies all over the U.S. were laying off employees – but not Armstrong. Yes, the success of pattern #5352 not only kept the factories running, it enabled the company to deliver Christmas bonuses even during those dire economic times. Hence: Nearly 90 years later, it’s still known internally as “The Christmas Pattern.”

The 2020 revival of 5352 — aka Heritage Brick

armstrong 5352 colonial classic coral
5352 is rolling out nationally 2020: Heritage Brick, in Coral
Armstong flooring 5352 reintroduced
Four colorways – chosen as trending today

And now: Armstrong Flooring pattern 5352 is now coming back as a player in the 21st Century. Yes, in what’s sure to be the biggest product news of the year here, Armstrong Flooring is reintroducing its famous #5352 pattern – now dubbed “Heritage Brick” – in four colorways. Armstrong Flooring is in the process of rolling out the revived design through flooring retailers and expects it to be more widely available as the year progresses. Watch this story for updates on the pattern’s availability nationwide — Armstrong Flooring has promised to keep us updated.

So there you have it: Armstrong Flooring pattern #5352 in continuous production from 1932-2000 — that’s 68 years. And now, revived in 2020!

Thank you, Armstrong Flooring, Mark Zeamer, readers, and the Building Technology Heritage Library for helping make this story possible!

***

Precautionary Pam safety reminder: Be aware that there may hazards in old products, materials and their layers. Get with properly licensed professionals to assess what you are dealing with so that you can make informed decisions. For more info see our Be Safe/Renovate Safe page

  1. Joel says:

    Armstrong 5352 in red came with the kitchen in the home my parents bought in 1980 (built in ’64). I always admired it and found it endlessly fascinating, even as a kid, just to look at it with its many geometric figures.

    Will the new one be in linoleum or vinyl? I don’t think I’d buy it in vinyl. The linoleum gave it a depth that vinyl can’t match.

  2. M. James Smith says:

    I retired from Armstrong with 29 years of service . I have always appreciated having been a part of such a wonderful company – great products and great people.
    I am now looking at replacing the 5351 yellow pattern that I installed in our kitchen over 35 years ago. I only need about 26 square yards. Can you suggest where I might find this yellow pattern (it appears as though this is the only pattern not being reinterduced). Thank you.

  3. Olivia says:

    I am absolutely ECSTATIC that this pattern is back in production. My parents are renovating the family cabin built in 1962 in northern MN, and they put me on the hunt to find the pattern. I had no manufacturer name, no pattern name — nothing to start a search. And when I typed in “linoleum reproduction” imagine my heart RACING when the google images bring up this very article with an image that matches what I needed to find. I almost cried. I am so excited to order this for them, so we can maintain some of the original spirit of this cabin. THANK YOU for this work that you do!!

  4. pam kueber says:

    @ Olivia — Well, golly, it was wonderful to wake up to this message. Thank you for taking the time to let me know the blog was a help. Send me a photo when you’re done! Hooray!

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