How and where did people get building materials and tools in earlier times?

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We now have Lowe’s and Home Depots right around the corner. I can call and get a handyman relatively easy. Before 1900, for example, before we had trucks and computers and logistics, how did anyone coordinate building houses? Did they have general contractors?

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4 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

I’m not sure about earlier, but in the US, modern hardware stores and such have existed from at least the 1870s. It was basically the same as nowadays.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Many homesteaders built there homes themselves because it was cheaper and they didn’t have much choice. Basic construction skills were something passed down, or you had to learn from those around you to survive.

In Medieval times peasants would make their own homes and barns. You might pay a local carpenter to make the frame for you, but you had to put in a lot of the effort yourself.

This included processing a lot of the materials yourself like chopping down trees to make logs and boards.

Houses like that were also a lot simpler than what we think of today. Building codes weren’t a thing, there was also no indoor plumbing or electricity. Heat was supplied by a wood fired fireplace or stove.

“An old fashioned barn raising” was also a thing. People would coordinate at Church and come help a farmer put up his barn. While there was a lot of prep (months) required like clearing the land and collecting/preparing the materials, a barn could be raised by a community is as little as 2 days.

If you’re curious Dick Proenneke (1916 – 2003) created a series of videos where he recorded himself building a cabin in Alaska using nothing but handtools and mostly materials collected from the land. In a lot of cases he made the tools himself or partially himself. Techniques that go back to the pioneer days. His videos are easy to find on youtube.

Tools and supplies like nails and concrete could be purchased at the general store or ordered through the mail.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The answer is going to vary a ton based on where and when you mean by ‘earlier times’, but,

If you were a regular guy and you needed wood to build a house, you had to cut down trees and process them. Get or make all the materials from scratch. That’s obviously a lot of work, so a) buildings were made to minimize the most labor-intensive materials (like wattle and daub, using little wood and filling in the rest with plaster reinforced with straw), and b) building a house in a village would have been a communal activity, not unlike how Amish communities can come together to raise a barn in a few days today.

Government-run building projects can have assembly lines and specialized roles, and rich individuals could similarly hire as much labor as they could afford. When economies get complex enough, there might be specialist craftsmen, and a market where planks/nails/etc. could be bought, but for most of history, most materials would have to be made from scratch for each project.

Anonymous 0 Comments

You’d know someone that could do work, or you would do it yourself. As for materials the supply chain used to be much more local, even today in rural areas its likely possible to buy lumber (like a 2×4) from someone that milled it in their yard from locally cut wood. Modern supply chains lower the cost (and maybe the price) but the ability to produce locally still exists.

Also Sears used to sell kits for an entire house, you could literally order a house from a magazine. They’d send you all the materials and the instructions to assemble/build. [](