Monday, October 27, 2014

From Oakland to New Orleans

In February 1946, Andrew Jackson Higgins, Jr. announced to Dallas businessman his latest venture, the development of an inexpensive solution to America's post-War housing shortage. Invented by Oakland, California architect Maury I. Diggs (1886-1953) in 1941, the ferro-enamel product could be utilized to build a house in three days for as little as $3,000. Higgins' research department further experimented with the product, trademarking it as Thermo-namel. The heat-fused porcelain enamel could be shipped to a building site and erected on a standard foundation. Thermo-namel sheets of equivalent size were then spaced apart to form a wall.  Once this sheathing was up, another Diggs innovation, a cellular concrete that Higgins trademarked "Thermo-con," was poured into the space between the Thermo-namel sheets.

Higgins claimed that Thermo-namel could be customized for any floor plan or color scheme, and that this flexibility would silence any objections to prefabricated construction. He felt his product could be used to build anything from garden furniture to skyscrapers. Seeking to attract Texas investors, he proclaimed the insulating Thermo-con to be "tornado-proof, earthquake-proof, dust-proof, vermin-proof and fireproof." Higgins hoped to build a $1 million plant in Dallas that would be exclusively geared towards providing affordable housing for veterans.

A national steel  shortage forced Higgins to abandon Thermo-namel and instead promote Thermo-con as the means of delivering homes to the masses. The earliest Thermo-con homes were built in New Orleans, designed by Sporl and Maxwell.

Read more:  "Higgins Proposes $3,000 Homes of Steel and Enamel." Dallas Morning News 14 February 1946.

Image above:  Designing for the Thermo-Con Cellular Concrete System. New Orleans: Higgins Inc. Thermo-Con Division, Undated. Circa 1950. Architectural Trade Catalogs, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries. Digitized via the Internet Archive's Building Technology Heritage Library.

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