Your Tiny Home Goes Back To The Great Depression

History Facts

We need to do some real talk about "tiny houses," why most of them seem to be portable rather than built in place, and how they're just today's version of a long tradition of portable housing for people with no money and no rights.

This photo is so great, because nobody expects to see a fully recognizable tiny house getting towed by a horse in 1936.

The archive's caption for this pic: "Roy Merriot getting ready to move a transportable house. He is a tenant of a 160 acre loan company farm which has recently been sold, and is now holding a 'quitting farm' sale. This is the third farm he has lost in the last 10 years." Aww, the rustic good ol' days before agribusiness!

More to the point when it comes to tiny homes: This shack on wheels was a precursor to the modern mobile home. The point of movable homes isn't just that they're cheap, per se. It's that you can own a home without owning land.

AKA if you get evicted you don't lose your home. You just move it.

This was very important for tenant farmers. The farmers who owned the land — who were mostly wealthier local families, not corporations — refused to let tenants stay for more than a year or two in one place. This forced mobility helped make sure there would never be a critical mass of registered voters to support tenants' rights laws. In other words, portable housing worked for tenants because they got to keep their home from eviction to eviction. And it worked for the upper class because it was a way to make sure undesirable people kept moving.

Eviction was a normal part of life for tenant farmers. That's why so many lived in movable tiny houses. That's why they were early adopters for modern mass-produced trailer homes when they became available ... during the Great Depression. Here are a couple great articles about how mass-produced trailer homes were a BOOMING business during the Depression.

Funny enough, the articles only hint at the hordes of people taking to the roads to find work (aka "hobos"). They chalk up the bull market in trailer homes to "leisure camping."

During the Great Depression.

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tl;dr, tiny homes are a decent stopgap measure for housing people in a time of national crisis. Most of the ones you see on Instagram are gentrified as hell, but real life small and/or mobile housing units can be super useful for folks without the money or stable work for conventional housing. But we need to get real with ourselves: "Wanderlust" alone can support a small subculture. The massive explosion of interest is something else. It's a mirror of the Great Depression.

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Sarah Taber
Dr. Sarah Taber is a crop scientist who worked her way up from dirty jobs. She's currently using her experience in dirty jobs and the garment industry to make fun, comfortable no-fog masks that you should check out if you're into that kind of thing ( She lives in Fayetteville, North Carolina and shitposts at

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