Not satisfied with having improved the average American's life with electric lights, movies and phonographs, the Wizard of Menlo Park decided in the early part of the 20th century to abolish city slums and get every working man's family into sturdy fire-proof homes that could be built inexpensively on a mass scale. And what would those homes be made of? Why, concrete, of course, using materials from the Edison Portland Cement company. Edison, recalling his own working-class upbringing, said he would take no profit if the venture succeeded.
Edison's plan was to pour the concrete into large wooden molds the size and shape of a house, let it cure, remove the framework and -- voila! A concrete house, with decorative molding, plumbing pipes, even a bathtub, molded right in. Edison said these dwellings would sell for around $1,200, about one-third the price of a regularly constructed house at the time.
But while Edison Portland Cement was used in a lot of structures around New York City during the building boom of the early 1900s, the concrete houses never caught on. The molds and equipment needed to make the homes required a huge financial investment that few builders were able to make. Image was another problem -- not many families wanted the social stigma of moving to a house that was touted as getting people out of the slums. One other factor: The homes were just plain ugly. In 1917, a company operated chiefly by Edison's friends did build 11 concrete homes in Union, N.J., but they weren't well received and no more were ever built.
And what did Edison expect you to furnish your concrete home with? Keep reading to find out why the inventor wouldn't have been a good interior designer.