Concrete block construction calls up mental images of ugly, utilitarian structures for storage or public washrooms. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, nothing was further from the truth.
In those inventive decades of architecture and construction – when new technology like drywall and even built-in vacuums were being introduced – concrete-block machines were being touted as money saving devices for the small contractor.
For as little as $ 40., a contractor could purchase a Block Machine which, with the change of a mould, could produce three different kinds of hollow blocks, able to be used for foundations, exterior walls, or even garden walls.
Moulded concrete blocks were known by several names. Sometimes called “Art-Blocks”, and other times “Artificial Stone”, the attempts to append a new descriptive name to the product at the time showed that even then there was some resistance to the concept of “Concrete Blocks”.
This method of construction, with its potential rich appearance, and variety of shapes, was meant to provide an expensive ‘stone’ look to an inexpensive method of construction. Additional moulds could be purchased for the block machines, widening the scope for decorative effects and architectural detailing
Although touted as being easy to use and “providing a profitable business for every man who wishes to be his own boss”, in hindsight it appears that manufacturing blocks for houses was not the all-encompassing construction solution that small contractors were looking for.
Even with all of the purported benefits of this new method of construction, few houses appear to have been constructed using this method. That is not surprising when you consider the immense effort it would take to mix the concrete, form the blocks under some pressure, dry them, and then hoist these heavy items, and finally mortar them into place.
Allowing for the wide press coverage and promotion for the method in the national magazines of the day, houses built of concrete blocks are still relatively unusual, but they are valued as good examples of their kind, and distinctive products of their time period.