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The Aladdin Company (1906-1987)
Manufacturer of readi-cut homes.

History - (Added Jan., 2009)

The Bay County Story – From Foot Paths to Freeways, Leslie E. Arndt, 1982

The Aladdin Company.
_______

Page 132.

William J. Sovereign was the dreamer, inspired by the success of three firms (including Defoe Boat Works), which were selling knocked-down boats by mail and shipping their carefully machine parts themselves and save a lot of money.

“If boat can be sold by mail, why not houses?,” Sovereign reasoned. “Boats can only be sold where there is water,. House would have a market anywhere.”

W. J. Sovereign was the designer, with ideas developing on the kitchen breadboard in him mother's home. (The Rachael Sovereign Home is named in her honor.) A brother Otto used his newspaper and advertising expertise to sell the product.

Established in 1906, their Aladdin Company (previously North American Construction Co.) is still selling houses and lays claim to being the oldest readi-cut home firm in the country. The aggressive company called them “knocked-down” houses. The first catalogs offered cottages, boat houses, and residential garages. More complex “dwelling houses” followed shortly.

The bungalow, of course, was only one of numerous architectural styles offered by Aladdin, but this was as standard in its day as the ranch house was 40 years later, and there were many of those in early catalogs.

The Sovereign brothers lived on Fifth Avenue, Otto at 2127 and William next door. Their first catalog offered a cottage, 12 by 20 feet, and a 6 by 12 porch, “completely sawed and with all hardware for $98.70.”

By 1910 California bungalows were being turned out on the Aladdin assembly line and their 1915 catalog introduced the Plaza, inspired by one of the best known bungalows in Pasadena, and an expanded sales line such as furniture and rugs, plumbing fixtures and finishing materials like shingles and hardware.

Early 1920 catalogs listed nationwide operations with mills in Bay City, Hattiesburg, Mass., Wilmington, N. C., Portland, Ore., and Toronto and Vancouver in Canada. In 1922 there was a proud disclosure of medals from the Panama Pacific International Exposition for a model cottage and a Michigan Exposition award for a Kentucky bungalow which was shown at the Michigan State Fair.

Traveling trailers were included in catalogs in the mid 1930s and by 1941, the word bungalow was gone and “modern” began appearing. “Ranchhouse,” the architectural successor to bungalows, with similar floor plans and outdoor-indoor living, began showing up in the late 1940s. Large “picturesque” windows made their debut in the 1950s.

By then, Aladdin showed up among the top 10 taxpayers in Bay City industry. In 1958, The Bay City Times said that in 42 years the company had produced 140,000 homes.

Both world wars interrupted production of home. The firm went to war contracts, building everything from mess halls to barracks, latrines and shower buildings for all the military banches.

The old office building became the Aladdin Apartments and those came down in the mid-1960s. The site was adjacent to the Belinda Street Bridge. The firm shifted its offices to a suite in the Davidson Building first and now is at the northwest corner of Fifth and Saginaw.

William J. Sovereign is president and general manager now and says the business is concentrated in Michigan now, with northeast United States as a territory. Otto Sovereign suggested the name Aladdin for the company, getting the idea from the fabled tale of “Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp,” in which Aladdin's slave produced a complete castle overnight. Otto saw the name Aladdin as “an easy name to remember.”

In the early years the different parts I the Aladdin homes were cut to exact measurements by the Lewis Manufacturing Co., which later started to produce its own knocked-down homes, “Liberty Homes” and became national sellers, too. For a number of years these two housing firms and the International Mill and Timber Co. made this city the largest center in the nation producing readi-cut or prefabricated homes.

1916 - Rotarian. (Added Nov., 2009)

The Rotarian, May 1916.

THE MAGIC POWER OF AN IDEA
(No. 5 in “From Little Beginnings” series)

The Wonder Story of a Modern Aladdin Lamp.
By Giles Kavanagh
_________

In Bay City, Michigan, there is a young man who is perhaps the busiest mortal in that busy town. If your want to see him you have to make an appointment with him. When you do you will find that he may have been the one who put the “point” in appointment, because you must get to the point quickly. He goes by that somewhat recent adage that carries in it the sentiment of ancient logic, “Be brief – we have our living to make and it takes most of our time doing it.”

When you get your turn you do not find a man behind a desk littered and strewn with documents and an environment in keeping with an impatient, nervous individual. Rather by the occupant of a neat, well kept office, bidden civil and cordial greetings by a quiet, easy voice. You might at first think that you had been needlessly kept waiting for effect, but when you know Otto E. Sovereign better you appreciate that he has evolved a wonderful system of business procedure, which causes the affairs of a mammoth concern to move with marvelous precision and alacrity.

The North American Construction Co. was the pretentious name that identified a small office in the Crapo building of Bay City, a few years ago – in 1908 to be exact. In that officer were to be found a draughting table, a business desk and a typewriter desk. Otto E. Sovereign occupied the desk while his brother, W. J. Sovereign, was at the drawing board. If memory serves they were each drawing the stupendous stipend of $5 per week. In those struggling days it may have been $5 perhaps.

The next thing the attention of all Bay City was attracted to the third floor of the First National bank building, all of the windows of which were emblazoned with the title of the firm and the trade mark that since has become famous “Aladdin houses and barns.” There was to be heard issuing forth the click of a number of typewriters and loads of mail were to be seen going to and from the offices.

During the first two years of the firms' existence the entire capital, surplus and undivided profits went into advertising, display in semi-national magazines being indulged in to the extent of less that $100 each year. In 1910 the North American Construction Co. did a $100,000 business; in 1915 they spent more than that in advertising. Publicity is the magic lamp which Aladdin rubs in this modern Arabian Nights.

The evolution of an idea pervades the history of this company. They now occupy magnificent offices of their own and have one of the finest lumber mills in the country, from which reverberates the siren tune of the buzz-saw as it keeps step in the vanguard of the procession of progress.

Otto E. Sovereign with his mastermind of salesmanship, via the advertising route, has nurtured and developed that idea from incubation to its present sturdy and robust proportions for “Aladdin readi-cut” houses are known from the Everglades to the Yukon and from the Atlantic to the Pacific and beyond the seas.

The success of the North American Construction Co. has inspired others to similar endeavor. Two of these concerns in Bay City has practically unlimited capital with which to start but they are yet a long ways behind the original, which started with practically no financial capital. The brothers, who comprise this firm, are now fairly wealthy. They pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps.

Interest and Strange Story.

These characters of a truly modern industrial Arabian Nights, have a history that is just as interesting and possibly stranger than that of Aladdin and the genii. William J. Sovereign was working as draftsman for a Bay City knock-down boat concern, when it occurred to him that the same principal could be used in house building. He worked on this idea for some time, devoting his first attentions to boat houses and then small summer cottages. The he worked on a small house. He used what he could spare of his salary for advertising in semi-national magazines and sold a few buildings. He did this from his house, as a side line.

After the third year his brother, Otto E. Sovereign joined him. As the business grew the brothers developed the confidence of their employes to an unusual extent. They accomplished this by making it a pleasure for their workers to be at their tasks. For instance, the big force of young women are accorded the courtesy of a home; they are given a morning and afternoon recess for recreation. The employes are given Yuletide remembrances each Christmas; they have banquets, they have parties; they have outings and picnics. In a word, the North American Construction Co., is one big family, pervaded by democracy and good will. In this way enthusiastic, loyal help has been acquired and thus half the battle was won.

The office systems is the chief feature of the Aladdin success. There are few concerns in the world which has a larger mailing list and every name is in the great card index, which is kept up-to-the-minute. An efficiency expert is employed to watch the work of employes and as a worker shows best on one particular phase that specialty is developed and the person is trained along the line to which he or she is best adapted.

William J. Sovereign, president of the company, directs the mechanical end of the business, while Otto E. Sovereign, secretary and general manager, looks after the business end. Otto is keen and original. Among his many happy strikes was the “dollar-a-knot” idea. The company advertised that they would give a dollar for every knot found in their red cedar siding. Old lumbermen laughed at such advertising because a lumberman knows there are not knots in ordinary red cedar siding. But Otto Sovereign realized that only lumbermen know this and he was not trying to sell house to lumbermen but rather to the people in other walks of life. The idea worked out so well that knotless lumber for all surface goods was adopted as a policy. Another policy is to settle every claim without a long drawn out dispute.

Use Made of Waste.

As the business developed various ways of utilizing lumber that was formerly wasted were found and this paved the way for reduction in prices, so that now not only the farmer and the small town buyer are customers, but city residents, big corporations and the United States and English governments are numbered among their customers.

Otto Sovereign was born in Bay City 33 years ago. Fate kindly buffeted him about thru the vicissitudes of newspaper and advertising agency experience until he found his niche. He fitted in. Success has not spoiled him and he works harder today than ever, “running on high and hitting all eight cylinders without a miss.” With the optimism born of clean character, he wants others to prosper as well as himself. He is president of the Bay City Board of Commerce and he is doing much to aid in the growth of industrial Bay City. He is past exalted ruler of the Elks' and an active Rotarian and a steadfast believer in the Rotary motto, He Profits Most Who Serves Best. A beautiful Aladdin house is his home and it is presided over by the good wife who has been the inspiration and practical aid to her husband.

1921 - Aladdenette. (Added Jan., 2009)

Printer's Ink, A Journal For Advertisers, 1921

The Aladdinette.
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One of the most striking examples of how a manufacturer changed his product to keep it within the price grasp of the consumer is offered by the experience of The Aladdin Company, maker of Aladdin Readi-cut Houses, of Bay City, Mich. This company recently brought out a new type of house – the Aladdinette. It is described as a “detached apartment,” or a small home designed on the apartment principle, which will permit the man who is desirous of owning his own home to build it at a total cost of something equal to pre-war costs. According to a statement made by O. E. Sovereign, general manager of the company, the Aladinnette cuts the cost of home-owning nearly 50 per cent. It is a complete home scientifically economized to reduce the material used without sacrificing convenience or losing one iota of space whre it is essentially needed.

This move on the part of the company does not mean that it has abandoned the make of its regular line of Aladdin house or that it is going to be necessary for the whole population to seek relief from financial strain by taking to Aladdinette houses. There will always be a demand for palatial residences and houses full of superfluous rooms. It does mean, however, that the company is willing to cut its sales unit in half to permit those who have not the money to buy a large house, to buy some kind of a house until this readjustment period has been got over and prosperity resumes its forward march.

Every single one of us is inclined to say that our product now represents the irreducible minimum when it is proposed that we reduce it still further. Whether our product is a $5,000 automobile or a $500 one; whether it is a piano or a pencil; pig iron or a stationary engine; a shovel or a fly screen, we have difficulty in getting over the feeling that the present freezing up of sales is in some way due to the weather and to-morrow's sun will thaw things out. It is so much trouble to change our product! If we will only wait a little while, all will be as it was.

Conditions in the building field are as representative as in any other. They are far-reaching also, and affect many other lines. Every manufacturer who expects the public to part with some of the manufacturers' goods can learn something by taking a look at conditions in the building field and noting what is going on there.

THE CASE OF ALADDIN.

Take the business of the Aladdin company as a barometer. In the spring of 1920 the company face an oversold condition in the factory. Up until May it had been running on accumulated orders. The first six months of the year showed gross sales in excess of the enter twelve months of 1919. But the largest part of the business was received during the first four months of the year.

Then came the restriction in buying that struck the country in mid-spring, with which the restriction in credits and something to do. In the opinion of Mr. Sovereign the withdrawing of credits was not the fundamental cause of this slump, though it undoubtedly hastened it.

“In the building business,” say Mr. Sovereign, “it becomes extremely difficult to operate when home builders find it almost impossible to finance themselves through the usual channels. While we do business entirely on a cash basis and it would seem not seriously affect us, yet many of our customers have insufficient money to purchase for cash the materials necessary for the construction of their homes, but have to borrow money for the purpose. We fell, however, that this is only one reason for the softening of business in our particular line.

“Or prices have advanced on an average of around 70 per cent over pre-war prices, yet this advance is not the greatest cause for the slump in home building. The price of labor, we believe, has had the greatest effect upon home building operations.

“Any well-informed contractor who keeps a careful cost record will tell you that the cost of labor in the construction business today is four-times the pre-war cost. While wages have a little more than doubled, on an average, the productiveness of the average worker has been cut in two.

“There are hundreds of small towns and villages throughout the country where skilled carpenter labor could be had before the war on a basis of $2 to $2.50 per day, and in these same towns, our investigation shows that carpenter labor is getting $1 per hour.

“These inequalities will ultimately be worked out by the old leveler, 'the law of supply and demand.' In fact, it is beginning to get in its work at the present time. The shortage of homes in this country still exists and is still acute. There is only one way to relieve it and that is to build more homes, so that we look confidently toward the future, but are not prepared to prophesy when the aforementioned inequalities will be worked out and conditions return to somewhat near their normal place.

“Inasmuch as advertising is the force which is wholly and entirely responsible for the beginning and continuance of our business, it is hardly necessary for me to say that we have never thought of discontinuing it under any circumstances.

In the early part of last summer plans were made by the company to bring out its line of Aladdinettes. As much as it believed in the fundamental stability of the country and that the law of supply and demand must operate to continue its business prosperity, the company determined to meet the resumption of prosperity conditions half way. Just how it did this is extremely interesting, especially to other manufacturers who may be inclined to think that it is impossible, or at least impracticable, to make any change in their sales unit price. A house is a pretty large sized unit, it is true. But the Aladdin plan already represented many economics to the home builder, derived from the ability of the company to purchase materials in large quantities, and to cut those materials to size by machinery.

The advertisements of the company clearly specified a savings of $300 to $1,000 from the ordinary methods of buying and building. The cost of lumber alone was state to be 18 per cent less, while the cost for labor was set at 30 per cent less and the time of erection was cut to one-third of the ordinary time required.

In spite of all this saving, however, something revolutionary was needed to meet the situation.

“It was only a few years ago,” Mr. Sovereign continued, “that American home builders discovered the utter wastefulness of the old-style 'palor' and the living-room thereupon promptly absorbed the parlor. We believe the wastefulness of the dining room to the family where economy and cost count is on par with the old parlor, for it is usually a good sized room which is used but three hours a day and for a single purpose. Our plans contemplated the elimination of the dining room without adding the inconvenience of dining room furniture in the living room.”

QUICK ACTION NEEDED.

About the middle of July the company announced the Aladdinette. Advertising plans were made a year ahead and when the plans for 1920 were made the Aladdinette had not bee contemplated. A series of full newspaper pages were prepared, however, and announcement of the new Aladdin product was made to the public. A catalogue describing the Aladdinette was rushed through the press and offered to those interested. Notice was sent to every Aladdin homeowner that 1,000 of the new houses were ready for shipment and a special 5 per cent commission was offered to every homeowner who would sell the first Aladdinette in his community by October 1.

By the installation of a modern kitchenette, and by the elimination of dining room space, and by the use of Murphy Wall Beds, floor space in the Aladdinette is made to serve double advantages. Housed can be built to cover five times as much floor space as the Aladdinette affords without adding to its convenience and comfort, and it can be built for the sum ordinarily paid out for two years' rent.

The Aladdinette contains a generous size living room, breakfast alcove, kitchenette and bath. It gives all the necessities and conveniences of the average home in a space approximating 60 per cent of that required for the usual designed home at a cost approximating 60 per cent of the usual cost.

1922 - Marketing. (Added Jan., 2009)

Printer's Ink, A Journal For Advertisers, 1922

Advice That Is Given Unasked For.
______

An insurance policyholder is certain to hear at least once yearly from the company issuing the policy. Sometimes he is remembered four times every twelve months. It depends entirely on the frequency with which he pays his premiums. Other than this though, in most cases the company and policyholder have nothing to do with one another.

Occasionally a company will make an effort to get in touch with its customers frequently enough to make them realize that they are dealing with an organization genuinely interested in their welfare. The most recent example of this sort originates with the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, Milwaukee. It is in the form of a booklet coming from the office of H. D. Van Dyke, the president. The board of trustees voted that this be done and the booklet issued on May 1 is the first of a series. Mr. Van Dyke shows a thorough grasp of the merchandising difficulties the booklets are designed to efface. But to the layman whose knowledge of insurance and insurance terms is so extremely meager, the first booklet is about as interesting as a report on vital statistics. For example: “The board feels that each policyholder,” say the booklet, “for his own personal interest should become well acquainted with the full import of his personal ownership in the company that thereby he may avail himself of the benefits, privileges and service which of right belong to him individually in an organization the results of whose endeavors are of no little concern to him, as well as his fellow members, and that he may intelligently co-operate with his associates for the general benefit of all equally concerned.”

The mark aimed for is entirely commendable. But we hardly believe the booklet is going to accomplish its purpose completely. We think the Northwestern Mutual can well afford to take a page from the experiences of the Aladdin Company, of Bay City, Mich. Ready-built house and insurance are widely separated. Yet they have one problem in common in that both must strive continually to keep their customers sold.

The Aladdin Company accomplishes this by sending to every Aladdin home where a babe is born a pretty baby book in which to enter all details of the child's progress. A garden contest is conducted to keep Aladdin owners interested in beautifying their plots. For Christmas, 1920, the company sent each Aladdin owner a miniature Aladdin lamp. This is but one of a series of gifts sent to owners each year. In addition Aladdin is a liberal advertiser, which is helpful in keeping customers sold – something that most insurance companies are not.

If an organization, such as the Aladdin Company, which rarely sells more than one home during a lifetime to a single individual, fins that this after-purchase selling is profitable , an insurance company, which has many more reasons for following a like procedure, might well afford to study the Aladdin idea. Lapsed policies, surrendered policies, new policies taken with other companies, an unfair attitude toward the company, are common insurance problems.

We recommend the Aladdin method as an effective way of overcoming these insurance merchandising hindrances. The article appears on page 33 of Printer's Ink Monthly for September, 1921, and it should be instructive reading to the members of the board of trustees of the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company and of other mutual insurance companies.

Aladdin's Weekly, the magazine published by the Aladdin Company (Bay City, Mich.), manufacturers of Aladdin “readi-cut” homes, wants some short stories with the value of home ownership accentuated. The publishers are going to issue a number of special editions during 1920, and offer prizes of fifteen dollars, ten dollars, five dollars and two dollars for each other manuscript accepted, on the subject “Back to the Farm.” Articles or stories, containing about 500 words, should deal with the benefits of life on a farm and what advantages such life has over city life, particularly to the young folks of the farm who are wont to leave their homes and seek their fortunes in the city. Statements should be straightforward and virile, and the place a home on a farm occupies and its tendency to keep young folks on the farm should be accentuated. Sentiment and human interest should be used to the fullest extent, and manuscripts may deal with such questions as “Do you think buildings, farmhouses, garages, barns, etc., would help to keep the young folks on the farm? or “Would an automobile making it possible for them to attend the 'movie' show in town and get home the same evening make farm life more attractive?” “Are you of the opinion that the young man of today has better opportunities on the farm than in the city?” “What about the bright lights of the city and their tendency to interfere with his progress?” “What of living and health conditions on the farm as compared to those of the city?” The contest will close January 15, but all copy date or postmarked up to midnight of that date will be considered. Manuscripts should be sent to the editor of Aladdin's Weekly, Bay City, Michigan. The publishers offer a second contest, with the same prizes and closing at the same time, on “Preference for a Small Town.”

Additional Notes.

Sovereign Genealogy:

    1900 - Census: Bay City (westside), Bay, MI.

  • Sovereign, Egbert. b. May 1841, Canada
  • Rachel, wife - b. Jul 1851, Canada
  • William J., son - b. Jul 1879, MI.
  • Otto E., son - b. Apr 1883, MI.

    1906 - Michigan Marriages - Bay City, Bay, MI.

  • Date: April 17, 1907.
  • Groom: Otto E. Sovereign, son of E.G. Sovereign and Rachel E. Smith.
  • Bride: Lulu P. Poole, daughter of Charles A. and Alice Poole.

    1909 - Michigan Marriages - Bay City, MI.

  • July 26, 1909:
  • Groom: Will J. Sovereign, age 30, Bay City, Mich., Manfgr.; Parents: Egbert G. & Rachel E. (Smith) Sovereign.
  • Bride: Florence L. Frazee, age 29, Saginaw, Mich., at home; Parents: Walter & Abba (McDonald) Frazee.
  • Minister: Chas. E. Marvin.
  • Withnesses: Otto E. Sovereign (Bay City) & Cora B. Frazee (Saginaw).

    1930 - Cenus: Bay City, Bay, Mich.

  • Soveriegn, Otto E. - 1884, MI.
  • Lulu P., wife - b. 1884, MI.
  • Hannah T., dau. - b. 1913, MI.
  • Evelyn B., dau. - b. 1918, MI.
  • James C., son - b. 1920, MI.

    1940 - Census: Bay City, Bay, Mich.

  • Sovereign, Otto - b. 1884, MI.
  • Lulu, wife - b. 1884, MI.
  • Evelyn, dau. - b. 1919, MI.
  • James, son - b. 1920, MI.

    1968 - U.S. Social Security Death Index.

  • Wll Sovereign, born 5 July 1879, died June 1968.
Related Pages & Notes

William J. Sovereign

Otto Sovereign

The Aladdin Company went out of business in 1881, however, its history lives on in tens of thousands of homesteads around the world. Many of these Aladdin homeowners are found on the internet sharing information with each other as proud owners of an Aladdin Home.
Related Pages:
{Aladdin Homes Pictorial}
Lewis Manufacturing Co.
People Referenced
Defoe,
Frazee, Cora B.
Frazee, Florence L. (wife-2)
Frazee, Walter
Marvin, Charles E. Rev.
McDonald, Abba
Smith, Rachel E. (mother)
Sovereign, Otto (subject 1)
Sovereign, Wm. J. (subject 2)
Sovereign, Egbert (father)
Van Dyke, H.D.
Subjects Referenced
Aladdin Apartments
Aladdin readi-cut homes
Aladdin's Weekly (magazine)
Aladdinette homes
Bachael Sovereign Home
Bay City, MI
Belinda St. Bridge
Canada
Davidson Building
Hattiesburg, MA
Intl. Mill & Timber Co.
Lewis Manufacturing Co.
Libery homes
Michigan Expo.
Michigan State Fair
Milwaukee, WI
Murphy Wall Beds
N.A. Construction Co.
North Western Mutual Life
Panama Pacific Intl. Expo.
Pasadena, CA
Portland, OR
The Bay City Times
Toronto, Can.
Vancouver, Can.
Wilmington, NC
Related Resources
[Google Books]
Houses from Books, by Daniel D. Reiff (2000), provide extensive background on Aladdin Company and pre-cut homes era.
[Aladdin Town]
History & photos of Aladdin home designs.
[Clark Historical Library]
Large collection of Aladdin catalogs.
Aladdin Song:
Ange Lorenzo, a song writer and musician from Saginaw, was commission by Otto Sovereign in 1916 to write a song for the company. It was called "Aladdin's Bungalow." It consisted of two verses and two choruses, lyrics that Lorenzo used urge on the listener,
"If it storms, if it blows, if it rains, or it snows, Get an Aladdin."
The music Lorenzo provided for this piece (which obtained some popularity) is a well-written example of the pre-1920 ragtime. - Source: "From Saginaw Valley to Ten Pan Alley." by R. Grant Smith (1997)
  • {View Google Books]
  • WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.