The collection documents the activities of the Aladdin Company and its founding family, the Sovereigns, from 1907 until 1989. The Aladdin Company was a manufacturer of catalog "kit homes" in Bay City, MI second in sales volume only to Sears Roebuck & Company. The collection includes company records, sales records (including building projects as part of WWI and WWII war efforts), Aladdin Company advertising materials, order and construction information, and personal records of various members of the Sovereign family - including the court records of the William Sovereign v. Mary Sovereign divorce case.
Mold Alert: Virtually the entire collection suffered from mold and mildew infestations, and in some cases water and mold had damaged items beyond repair. Most, but not all, of the collection has also been fumigated. Researchers should use the collection with care.
The Aladdin Company records, approximately 350 cubic feet, were discovered in a very disorganized state in 1994 in an abandoned Bay City warehouse. V Only the films, architectural drawings and plans had remained largely intact and in their original filing order. Most of the company’s other records had become disorganized. A few records were found in file cabinets while others were in rolling vaults, the combinations for which had been lost. Boxes of material lay scattered in various locations, and much paper simply had come to rest on the floor.
Because of the condition the records were found in, most of the collection’s order has been imposed upon the records. The collection is generally organized according to record type or major functions within the company. In addition, some miscellaneous groups of material have been placed at the end of the collection.
The collection is organized into eleven series: Corporate, Financial, Advertising, Order Department, Construction, Shipping Bills, Suppliers Transit & Mill Sites, Sovereign Family, Photographs and Films, Books and Magazines, and Miscellaneous. Detailed description of each series is found below.
The collection includes incorporation papers, directors’ meeting minutes, contracts, stock records and other basic corporate information, office manuals and procedures, studies, financial statements, appraisals, inventories, payroll, catalogs, advertising material, publications, art work, floor and construction plans, orders, billing lists, invoices, mailing lists, price bills, real estate records, personal records of the Sovereign family (including court records), photographs, films, magazines, and books.
Researchers may also be interested in the Addition to the Aladdin Collection and separately cataloged publications by and about Aladdin kit homes in the Clarke Historical Library.
How to prove that your house is an Aladdin kit home:
Researchers trying to prove that they own an Aladdin kit home, should begin their research in the Aladdin Small Order Log Books, 1914-1981. If you know which year your house was built, begin with the volume/s for that year and search for the last name of the first owner. If you cannot find the owner’s name, that means a carpenter or a man who owned a construction company ordered the house for the owner. You will need to review each entry in that volume searching for any entries ordered in the same style and in the same town or city as your house. To determine the style, look at an Aladdin catalog for the year when your house was purchased. Many styles remained the same in the catalogs over decades. Once you locate your home in the Order Log Book, note the Customer Order Number. This important number will take you to a specific Customer Order Form somewhere in another subseries, Customer Order Forms, 1914-1918, Boxes 93-154. Each Customer Order Form provides detailed information about the home ordered including style, cost, options selected and any custom changes, name of person who ordered it, to whom it will be shipped, and date.
If you are uncertain as to which year your house was built, there are two possible ways to proceed. One is to take an estimated guess, based on style and family lore, and review some Aladdin catalogs from that period and hope you find a house that looks like yours. Then search in the Log Books within that time period for homes in the style and location that matches yours. Another approach is to check the chain of title from when you bought or inherited your house. That should list the earliest owner, verifying the date of construction, unless your house was not the first built on the property
Aladdin Small Order Log Books, 1914-1981, 3 cubic feet (in 3 boxes, #90-92):
Aladdin Small Order Log Books, 1914-1981, function as indexes of those who ordered Aladdin buildings, mostly houses, and direct researchers to specific Customer Order Forms, pages which describe each building in detail as ordered. The Small Order Books is a subseries of records in Series #4 Order Department. Immediately after the Log Books in Series 4 are the Customer Order Forms, 1914-1981, 62 cubic feet (in 62 boxes, #93-154).
Aladdin Small Order Log Books: Description:
The Log Books are both volumes and loose pages. The majority are volumes with information written by hand, in penmanship. Typed information is only found in loose pages which could be fed through a typewriter.
Log Books may have information for one or more years in them. Some Log Books overlap with other Log Books. From the 1950s forward there are always more than one volume/year.
Most log books simply have dates on the cover, others have titles written on, taped on, or printed on the covers such as Order Book, Orders, Record, Order Number Book, etc. Sometimes other forms of volumes were used by Aladdin agents, for example phone number and address books. In order to distinguish one volume from another when the Log Books have no title and there is more than one volume for the year, information such as color of cover or size is noted in the folder label, or Volume I or II was added to the folder label and on the log book’s first page in pencil by Archivist Marian Matyn in 2022 prior to their being digitized.
Aladdin Small Order Log Books: Organization:
Log Books are organized chronologically by year in the boxes. Information within each Log Book is organized chronologically by year ordered and then alphabetically only by first letter of the surname of the person who ordered an Aladdin building. The list of names is in the chronological order in which people purchased homes, so the order numbers are in numerical, although not consecutive, order within each alphabetical run.
Aladdin Small Order Log Books: Information Within them:
Each Log Book contains the following information for each order: date of order, name of a person who ordered the building or house, and Order Number. Additional information often includes house style, for example Pilgrim #2, and address of purchaser at the time of purchase. The address is usually the address to which the house kit was shipped by rail, which might be closer to the carpenter or construction company than the house site. Sometimes the mailing address of the owner is included. Miscellaneous notes may be included for such things order changes or cancellations. These notes were added after the order was recorded and are always handwritten, even on typed pages.
Aladdin Small Order Log Books: Physical Condition:
Like the rest of the collection, the series pages all suffer from some degree of mold and were fumigated. Researchers should use the original materials with care. The log books are in overall fair physical condition. Many volumes have damaged or loose spines, pages, and covers. The pages also suffer from acidification and dirtiness. Some pages have edge damage.
The first series of records has been labeled Corporate and Administrative (boxes 1-12). The Corporate records form the core legal records of the company. They include incorporation papers, directors’ meeting minutes, contracts, stock records and other basic corporate information.
Within the Administrative records are found material relating to the firm drawn together from various locations in the warehouse. It is almost certain that the material placed in this series was originally located in several distinct files. Office manuals and procedures found in this series do much to reveal how Aladdin’s records may have originally looked and various aspects concerning the structure of the company. Detailed folders exist for a number of government and industrial projects (see related plans in Construction series). Various self-studies, particularly the 1961 problem report, are helpful in giving an idea of how the firm viewed its challenges during its final years. Also of interest are the “Co-operator” files of 1913-1922. Sovereign family lore claims that the firm’s founders placed great emphasis on the comments of this Massachusetts customer and often gave much credit to her for helping them “think through” the business.
The information contained in the Financial series (boxes 13-34) provides a fairly complete picture, both in summary and detail, of the financial condition of the company. The Financial series records cover the year 1910-1984, thus they present a very complete chronological picture of the firm’s finances. The annual financial statements summarize the detailed information contained in the much more specific general journal and other financial books. These are followed by appraisals and inventories. Also included in this series is payroll and other employee-related information, although non-financial employee information is found in the Corporate and Administrative series.
For many researchers, the Advertising series (boxes 35-63) will prove particularly important. It has been divided into three sub series: Material re. Advertising and Its Effectiveness, Direct Mail, and Art Work and Floor Plans. Material re. Advertising and Its Effectiveness represented ads placed in magazines across the country that invariably invited readers to send in their name and address to receive a catalog. Aladdin was very proud of the fact that it relied exclusively on this device to develop its catalog mailing list. Much of the series is composed of “source reports,” which analyze the effectiveness of advertisements placed in various publications.
The heart of the company’s advertising was its annual catalog, which is found in the Direct Mail sub-series. Follow-up advertising material, which has been filed with the catalogs, was sent out according to a pre-determined schedule. Although the amount of the follow-up, and in some cases pre-catalog mailings, varied year by year, Aladdin was generally very aggressive in both announcing that the annual catalog was coming and in following up with notes telling customers about the “lost opportunities” and higher prices they would face unless they ordered their new home “immediately.”
Early in the company’s history, Aladdin published several periodicals extolling their products and relating stories about the “Aladdin family” (composed of anyone who purchased an Aladdin home). Incomplete runs of these publications, including the Wedge (1913-1916), the Aladdin Magazine (1916-1918), and Aladdin’s Weekly (1919-1920), are placed at the end of the Direct Mail sub-series.
Also found under the Direct Mail sub-series are the Industrial Catalogs published by Aladdin the 1920s and aimed at corporations interested in group purchases. Housed with these catalogs are also some additional sales material aimed at corporate purchases, price lists, and a few floor plans and other miscellaneous related material.
The Art Work and Floor Plans contains the art work, a few photographic images, and catalog floor plans that were prepared primarily for the annual sales catalog, although some art prepared for other advertising is also found here. Many additional photographs used in the annual catalog are found in the Photographic series.
The Order Department series (boxes 64-153) consists largely of three sub-series: Mailing Lists, Price Bills, and Orders.
Mailing Lists is an extensive group of three by five cards giving the addresses of catalog recipients. Found only for the final few years of the company’s existence, they nevertheless give some idea of the scope of the firm’s mailings.
Price Bills were assembled to calculate the actual cost of each product to the company. Pricing was obviously critical to the company’s success. To monitor costs, each house model received a price bill, which detailed the cost of all materials therein. These records were arranged in alphabetical order by model name. Several alphabets were created, some covering one year while others covered a more extended period of time. Also in this sub-series is pricing information about “specifications” and “options and allowances.” “Specifications” were colored sheets that listed the standard features in a particular house model. “Options,” better or additional items on an order, added to the price of the house. “Allowances” were omissions of standard features which lowered the price of the house.
Most price bills, specifications, options and allowances date from 1940 or later. Price lists are fairly complete beginning in 1934, with a few earlier ones. Unit price lists are generic lists of materials, apparently for use in pricing the various house models.
Orders are a voluminous sub-series that records information regarding each home purchased from the firm. Orders are accessible in two ways. Alphabetical indexes arranged by customer name give access to order forms taken from 1914 until the company’s closing. Beginning in 1949, there are also some indexes by order number.
The order forms themselves are arranged numerically by order number. For practical purposes, however, this represents a chronological arrangement, since orders were given the next available number as they were received. Order forms are the heart of the company’s sales records. They contain information regarding the name and mailing address of the purchases, the model purchases, specifications such as color of interior paint, stain, or roofing shingles, options or allowances the customer requested, and any special instructions or orders.
Researchers seeking information about specific houses should be aware that order forms do not usually include information about where the house was erected. For most of its history, Aladdin shipped houses to a railroad station specified by the purchaser. The purchaser was responsible for moving the material from the railroad station to the construction site. Thus the order form usually includes only the railroad station to which the house was shipped. The mailing address given is that of the purchaser at the time of purchase. Obviously, most individuals would not erect a new house at the same mailing address as where they were living prior to buying a new house. Thus the order forms, by themselves, cannot be used to confirm that a specific structure is, in fact, an Aladdin home.
Sample order forms and instructional notes are contained in the folders in the first order form box. Most order forms received with the collection were in bound, water damaged volumes, necessitating copying order forms and disposing of the originals. A few forms (probably no more than six) could not be separated from the covers and were lost. Even in these cases, it is likely that a record of each order survives in the order indexes.
The Construction series (boxes 154-235) is, like the Administrative series, an artificial gathering of architectural drawings and other construction-related items that likely once made up several files. Although it is composed of many sub-series, the three most significant components of Construction are the Plans for Catalog Models, Plans for Special Orders and Plans for Government and Industrial Projects.
Plans for Catalog Models were organized alphabetically by house model name. Most date from 1947 or later and the series is nearly comprehensive for the post-World War II period of the company. The sub-series consists largely of pencil and ink drawing on mylar (which could be copied onto diazo prints or blueprints and a few sepia prints). All print types are housed together. A full set of plans might include ten sheets or more. Often, numerous plans were done for a house model. Sometimes these changes represented updating of the model to meet changing consumer tastes while in other cases the alternates reflected modifications needed to accommodate various options such as brick veneer, “reverse” plan, or panelized construction. “Filing plans” were usually three plan sheets submitted to the local building inspector for approval. Filing plans are often included with other plans but sometimes are not well identified.
Plans for Special Orders represent orders from individuals sufficiently different from the company’s basic existing house models to require a unique set of drawings rather than an “options” list. Special plans seem to have begun ca. 1940, but most of those which survive date form the 1960s to 1982. The content of the Special Plans sub-series is essentially identical to that found in the Plans.
The Government and Industrial Projects sub-series includes projects for the U.S. government or its allies in World Wars I, II, and the Korean War, or for companies doing essential war work. Most of the projects date from the Second World War but plans exist for three large World War I projects: Fort Snelling, Minnesota; Fort Myer, Virginia; and the Austin Motor Company; Birmingham, England (housing). The Government and Industrial Projects sub-series includes drawings for many, but not all, of the projects listed in the Administrative series. The discrepancy between this sub-series and the Administrative series was created because, according to a former draftsman for Aladdin (1947-1954), the firm disposed of many drawings from the World War II era. Bunk houses and huts sold to industrial concerns are listed in the order logbooks as well as in the Government and Industrial sub-series.
Also housed in the Construction series is the Local Developments, Real Estates and Rentals sub-series. This sub-series primarily documents the real estate speculation of Otto Sovereign in the Bay City area. It includes records of the Bay City Homebuilders Company (ca. 1916-1937, scattered), and the Bay City Commercial Reality Company (ca. 1923-1942), the Lenox Park subdivision (1916-1942), and other real estate firms.
Also found in the Construction series are Suppliers’ Invoices sub-series. These were sampled and include records from 1957-1958 (incomplete), 1965, 1974-1975 (1974 incomplete), and 1980-1981. Discarded were the invoices from 1966-1974, 1976-1979. No invoices dated before 1957-1958 were received.
The Shipping Bills series contains shipping bills, which were standard lists of materials in each house model. A copy was sent to the customer with the house shipment. These were continuously updated to reflect modifications in construction and are usually dated. Shipping Bills series covers the years 1939-1982. They are arranged in alphabetical order by house model name. A random sample of special order shipping bills was retained with the remainder discarded.
The Suppliers, Transit and Mill Sites series is largely concerned with sources of materials and shipping houses to customers. There is also some correspondence concerning potential mill sites and suppliers.
The Sovereign Family series consists primarily of non-Aladdin business records, correspondence, litigation and information regarding the Saginaw Bay Yacht Club. Business records found in this series primarily document the real estate speculation of Otto Sovereign in the Bay City area. It includes records of the Bay City Homebuilders Company (ca. 1916-1937, scattered), the Bay City Commercial Realty Company (ca. 1923-1942), the Lenox Park subdivision (1916-2942) and other real estate firms.
The correspondence is predominately to and from William J. Sovereign, covering the period 1944-1963. It includes personal material, business correspondence other than Aladdin, and information regarding charitable activities. Also found in the series is the court record of Sovereign family litigation in the case of William F. Sovereign vs. Mary K. Sovereign. Finally there is documentation regarding the Bay City Yacht Club (now the Saginaw Bay Yacht Club). Both William J. and Otto E. Sovereign were prominent members of the club.
The Photographs and Films series primarily includes photographs of Aladdin house models, government and industrial buildings, the Aladdin mill and related activities, as well as photographs of completed houses (and some construction series) sent in by owners. Likewise, the films document the Aladdin building method and the 1949 Wonder House. There are also photographs of Aladdin Company functions and Sovereign family members. Much of this material compliments information found in the Advertising series.
Books and Magazines series includes competitors’ catalogs: Hodgson Houses, 1918 and 1933; Bennett Homes, 1928; Sears Roebuck Millwork [c.1922]; and Gunnison [U.S. Steel] Homes, 1954. This series also includes a book and several articles about readi-cut and prefabricated housing.
There are an approximately 80 linear feet of additional Aladdin materials that are unprocessed and awaiting fumigation as of July 8, 2010.