Levittown, Pa.
Building the Suburban Dream
 

Explore the exhibit menu:
Planning, Building and Selling Levittown

Crabgrass Frontiers

The Most Perfectly Planned Community

The Most House for the Most Money

Assembly Line Housing

Advertising the American Dream


The Suburban Dream
Levittown Kitchen


Exhibit acknowledgements

 

Assembly Line Housing
CONSTRUCTING LEVITTOWN


building cartoon

"We are not builders. We are manufacturers."
Bill Levitt

On the assembly line made famous by Henry Ford, products moved down a conveyor belt to stationary workers. Levitt inverted Ford's system by having the workers move "down the line" to a stationary product—the individual house site.

Work crews performed the same specialized task at each house site. Some laid slabs, some framed. One man's job consisted of bolting washing machines into the floor.

Whatever its drawbacks, Levitt's system was enormously productive. His Levittowns were the fastest built developments in the history of American residential construction.

Levittown Timeline:

  • July 1951 -- Land purchase completed
  • December 1951 -- Sample houses open for inspection
  • March 1952 -- Construction begins
  • June 1952 -- First residents take possession
  • December 1952 -- First section completed
  • December 1957 -- Slab laid for last Levittown house--#17,311

While many supplies were shipped in, some materials were made on site. A cement hopper and gravel pit set up in the Lakeside section produced concrete for house slabs. After construction was completed, Levitt flooded the pit to create a community lake.

Cement plant Courtesy of Urban Archives, Temple University.

Cement plant. [Urban Archives, Temple University]

Levitt and Sons lumber yard. Courtesy of the Levittown Regional Library.

Levitt and Sons lumber yard. [Levittown Regional Library]

Trucks with lumber bundles Courtesy of the Nassau County Museum.

Trucks loaded with lumber bundles. [Nassau County Museum]

 

To reduce his dependence on middlemen, Levitt bought his own lumber stands in California and Oregon, invested in a lumber mill, and established a centrally located warehouse in Levittown. To increase efficiency, pre-cut lumber was bundled "combat loaded," with pieces needed first at top, before being trucked off to the site.

Building materials, from siding to nails, were delivered in perfectly calibrated house-sized amounts to each house site. Workers needed to do no measuring or cutting. Interchangeable, standardized parts also cut costs.

Men framing house Courtesy of Urban Archives, Temple Univerity

Men framing house. [Urban Archives, Temple Univerity]

Aerial of house slabs at alternating angles. Courtesy of Urban Archives, Temple University, Philadelphia.

Aerial view showing house slabs positioned at alternating angles. [Urban Archives, Temple University, Philadelphia]

Although production methods required he build only one or at most two house models per section, Levitt created the illusion of variety by alternating house angles, as revealed in this aerial photo of Levittowner house slabs in the Stonybrook section. Levitt also varied exterior house colors.

 

Rare photo of Bill Levitt (far left) on site.Levitt ran a notoriously tight business operation and expected a full day's work out of all his staff. Employees of Levitt's North Shore Supply Company were expected to determine the exact cost of all building materials—"down to the last 19 cents for two pounds of four-penny finishing nails," according to a Fortune Magazine article.

Rare photo of Bill Levitt (far left) on site. [Urban Archives, Temple University]

"Sure, there's a thrill meeting a demand with a product no one else can meet" Bill Levitt told the New York Times in 1952. "But I'm not here just to build and sell houses. To be perfectly frank, I'm looking for a little glory, too… I want to build a town to be proud of."

Recently completed housing section. Courtesy of the Bucks County Courier Times.Shortly after construction began, Levitt predicted that his firm would complete 4,000 houses within the first year, a goal he nearly reached.

Recently completed housing section. [Bucks County Courier Times]

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State Museum of Pennsylvania Copyright © 2003 The State Museum of Pennsylvania