When Did Plywood Become Common in Home Construction?

March 16, 2024

Plywood combines lightness, strength and flexibility to create a versatile building material that's used in a wide range of construction applications. While the idea of cross-grained veneers glued together has been around for a long time, modern plywood became popular as a construction material during the 20th century. The history of how this lightweight wood grew into the common building material it is today is a fascinating story of how modern world technology, social change and design evolved over the past 170 years.

Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, plywood was largely used as decorative material with various hardwood veneers cut and hewn into sheets and glued together. These pieces were often shaped, carved or sculpted to make furniture and other designs.

Schemes for cheap, mass-produced houses grew in popularity during the 1930s with the high unemployment and small household incomes of the Depression. Plywood was ideally suited to these prefabricated, modular housing plans as it could be quickly produced in the factory and then easily assembled on site.

The onset of World War II in 1941 boosted the use of plywood as it was needed for barracks, patrol torpedo boats and more. The war ended in 1945 and after the conflict, plywood continued to move further into the house industry. The number of mills producing the product in North America rose from 30 to 101 by 1954.

The 1930s also saw the development of resin adhesives that made plywood more useful for home construction. These new adhesives meant that plywood could now be used as sheathing on the outside of homes as well as for wall paneling, cabinets and shelving. This helped propel plywood into the ubiquity it is in home construction today.

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