WOSU logo   Carl Strandlund in front of Lustron plant
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Carl Strandlund

Emigrating from Sweden, the Strandlund family settled among the rolling cornfields of Moline, Illinois, when Carl Strandlund was four years old. Engineering ran in the young man's family: Carl's father, a reserved and strict man, worked in the John Deere plow division.

Carl Strandlund
Carl Strandlund

Strandlund was an eclectic young fellow. Obsessed with understanding how things worked, he spent countless hours with his father in the family workshop. Carl's obsession with tinkering eventually mingled with a passion for sports and gambling, however, and he bought thoroughbred racehorses to gain insight on winning bets and cultivating bloodlines. Carl liked to share his gambling insights, and after studying the University of Minnesota football team, he approached the coach, giving him suggestions for winning strategies. Ever-diligent and inquisitive, Strandlund went on to develop air conditioners for movie theaters, and he also built his own wallpaper-removing machine.

Carl then turned his attention to farming, where he revolutionized the farm implement industry. At the Minneapolis-Moline tractor company, he held more than 150 patents, many helping Depression-era farmers. During World War II, he was honored as a civilian war hero for the innovations he made to army tank plate production. Now in his mid-forties, Strandlund held court in Wilson Wyatt's office, the housing authority. After countless attempts to perfect his invention, Strandlund revealed his masterwork: the mass-production of porcelain-enameled steel houses on an auto-style assembly line. Originally designed to produce 100 houses a day, Strandlund's plan stunned Wilson Wyatt, and the Housing Expediter knew instantly that Strandlund held the key to solving the housing crisis.

A charming self-promoter, Strandlund won over senators, congressmen, and the White House with his Lustron dream. He negotiated a landmark agreement with national trade unions. CIO Chief, Walter Reuther, envisioned himself as head of the world's most powerful labor organization as a result. Without the solid promise of work, Strandlund's young band of engineers left their jobs nevertheless and followed their magnetic leader's grand dream. "Carl was like Knute Rockne with a football team," remembers Richard Reedy, a former Lustron traffic manager. Strandlund's niece, Sally Beiersdorf, agreed, "He was interested in getting people that were bright and eager and had this vision like he did. It just got to be one big family."

Today, America remembers the Lustron home — not Carl Strandlund. As Jules Prown, professor emeritus of the history of art at Yale University, recently remarked, "It is difficult to avoid comparing Strandlund's tale to Francis Ford Coppola's film Tucker: The Man and His Dream. Like Preston Tucker, Strandlund attempted to build the better mousetrap, but was toppled by politics and corruption." "Lustron was a tragedy," says Kristin Szylvian, a Western Michigan University history professor. "Its failure had nothing to do with great ideas and everything to do with politics." More than 50 years later, Lustron homes are known to still stand in at least 22 states in the Northeast, South, and Midwest, including more than 15 in Ohio. Perhaps Carl Strandlund rests content knowing that his great idea survived.

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