This is the third of a 3 part blog on prefabrication, so you may want to have a look at the previous two as well. Prefabrication is a big topic right now in construction, and even Amazon is getting in on the action, with shipping container homes now available to purchase on line. But there are some very interesting historical examples of prefab that have been largely forgotten.
Way back in 1908, Sears Roebuck popularized the concept through its catalogue/mail order shopping which allowed customers to purchase clothes, furniture, hardware, household goods, and amazingly, complete houses. Customers provided the land and labour, and Sears supplied all the components, delivered mostly by train. They offered hundreds of designs, and costs ranged from $750 to $3000. Between 1908 and 1940, about 75,000 prefab homes were sold, and built all over the US and with a few making it to Canada. The houses mostly appealed to the middle class market, with promotional material highlighting the speed of assembly and savings from eliminating middlemen (architects, contractors, etc).
On the other side of the Atlantic, in France, there is a very interesting example of the architect/designer Jean Prouve who is largely unknown outside of architectural circles. In the post WW2 era, Prouve worked in the fertile ground between architecture, design, and fabrication, making furniture, hardware, and at a larger scale, complete buildings. He was particularly interested in the use of prefabricated metal components, and he obsessed with exploring ways to make beautiful objects while also saving time, money, and labour. He was fascinated by industrial objects like airplanes, and how they were designed and fabricated and he translated this into the construction industry. I cannot think of an equivalent contemporary example of anyone who can capitalize on the advantages of prefabrication while also keeping such a strong design eye.