Windows in the Home

The following brochures, pamphlets, and catalogs explore how windows and glass evolved from the mid-19th through the mid-20th centuries.
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Windows are one of the most expressive and complex features of a building. They have been called “the eyes of a building,” an analogy that reveals how important they are to the character of a building. Windows also perform many functions—thermal envelope, light transmitting, sound control and ventilation. While most building parts are fixed, the window was an operating feature in order to provide natural ventilation, which made it even more complex. An element with this much importance in design and function is well represented in the documents in the Building Technology Heritage Library (BTHL).

The ubiquitous wood, double-hung window was a typical feature of residential and commercial buildings through most of America’s history. Variations in opening size, sash patterns, and shape were all part of the design evolution while the material of wood stayed the same. Most millwork catalogs of the 19th and early 20th centuries featured wood windows, including more complex shapes such as arched tops or bow windows. In the 20th century, national companies that just specialized in windows replace millwork companies in the marketplace.

In the 20th century there was a lot of innovation in window design in materials as steel and later aluminum windows started to complete with wood. The use of casement windows instead of double-hung windows grew in popularity and were often associated with various architectural styles. Steel casement windows were frequently used in period architectural styles as well as art deco and modernists designs. The development of insulating glass and glass block were two innovations that gained popularity in the 1930s but really took off after World War II.

In addition to windows for the typical American home, there are other special glass types that can be researched. Art glass is generally associated with religious structures but was also quite common in residential use in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There were also regional window types such as jalousie windows, which graced many a porch in the southern climates of the U.S. In addition to the windows themselves, there are numerous catalogs for window accessories such as drapes, curtains, and blinds.

The APT BTHL documents largely end in 1963, before the first energy crisis of the 1970s and the boom in the replacement window industry. The plethora of window documents in the BTHL reveals a common story, a constant evolution of new materials and designs that enrich the built environment of America.

The oldest BTHL document to features windows is one of the very few documents from the 18th century. Decorative transom fan lights were a notable feature of the front entry for 18th and early 19th century houses in both England and America.

The oldest BTHL document to features windows is one of the very few documents from the 18th century. Decorative transom fan lights were a notable feature of the front entry for 18th and early 19th century houses in both England and America.

Wood windows and window moldings were standard items from millwork companies and local lumber yards by the mid-19th century. Full windows and frames were an early building component to be “factory made” rather than assembled on site. The Paine Lumber Co. catalog from 1893 is typical this era. This catalog was published by Rand McNally & Co. and issued by many local lumber yards, which indicates a national standardization of millwork materials.

Wood windows and window moldings were standard items from millwork companies and local lumber yards by the mid-19th century. Full windows and frames were an early building component to be “factory made” rather than assembled on site. The Paine Lumber Co. catalog from 1893 is typical this era. This catalog was published by Rand McNally & Co. and issued by many local lumber yards, which indicates a national standardization of millwork materials.

The use of window screens to keep insects out of the house was a great advancement in home comfort and sanitation. The Burrowes company claimed to be the largest manufacturer of window screens in the world. This 1890s catalog featured window screens and screen doors with a variety of screen materials.

The use of window screens to keep insects out of the house was a great advancement in home comfort and sanitation. The Burrowes company claimed to be the largest manufacturer of window screens in the world. This 1890s catalog featured window screens and screen doors with a variety of screen materials.

This extensive catalog featured basic double hung windows with lots of variations of designs. Arch top windows, bowed windows and “stained glass” were but three of many available variations of the double-hung window.

This extensive catalog featured basic double hung windows with lots of variations of designs. Arch top windows, bowed windows and “stained glass” were but three of many available variations of the double-hung window.

The use of steel sash windows in both residential and industrial applications rapidly evolved in the early 20th century. The beautifully illustrated catalog shows the use of steel casement windows in both modern high-rise residential towers and single-family homes. The use of steel casements was particularly popular for Tudor revival style houses, which would have had casement windows in the ancient English versions.

The use of steel sash windows in both residential and industrial applications rapidly evolved in the early 20th century. The beautifully illustrated catalog shows the use of steel casement windows in both modern high-rise residential towers and single-family homes. The use of steel casements was particularly popular for Tudor revival style houses, which would have had casement windows in the ancient English versions.

The use of “art glass” or “stained glass” is usually associated with religious buildings, but art glass was also popular in residential architecture in the late 19th and early 20th century.  This trade association catalog features numerous glass designs in full color.

The use of “art glass” or “stained glass” is usually associated with religious buildings, but art glass was also popular in residential architecture in the late 19th and early 20th century. This trade association catalog features numerous glass designs in full color.

This building materials catalog from Sears Roebuck & Co. had a special one-page listing for storm sash, what is generally called a storm window today. Storm sash can be found as early as the 18th century but didn’t really become popular until the end of the 19th century. This page claims to have proof that adding storm windows will provide energy savings which could reduce your coal bill of 33%.

This building materials catalog from Sears Roebuck & Co. had a special one-page listing for storm sash, what is generally called a storm window today. Storm sash can be found as early as the 18th century but didn’t really become popular until the end of the 19th century. This page claims to have proof that adding storm windows will provide energy savings which could reduce your coal bill of 33%.

The Kawneer Company was one of the first to produce aluminum windows, starting in the 1930s. The Kawneer company got its start with metal storefronts at the beginning of the 20th century and later expanded into metal windows and curtain walls. This catalog featured both double hung and casement windows, with thin aluminum sections that were similar to profiles used in steel windows.

The Kawneer Company was one of the first to produce aluminum windows, starting in the 1930s. The Kawneer company got its start with metal storefronts at the beginning of the 20th century and later expanded into metal windows and curtain walls. This catalog featured both double hung and casement windows, with thin aluminum sections that were similar to profiles used in steel windows.

This dealer’s manual from the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company (PPG) starts with a history of glass making and a brief corporate history. This is one of the most comprehensive documents on glass products in the BTHL. There are technical and performance details for the full range of PPG glass and storefront products, including laminated and tempered glass, two major improvements is glass safety.

This dealer’s manual from the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company (PPG) starts with a history of glass making and a brief corporate history. This is one of the most comprehensive documents on glass products in the BTHL. There are technical and performance details for the full range of PPG glass and storefront products, including laminated and tempered glass, two major improvements is glass safety.

Glass block became very popular in the 1930s and quickly found a place in commercial, industrial and residential applications. The small catalog featured its use in residential applications. There were eight different square block patterns as well as curved units.

Glass block became very popular in the 1930s and quickly found a place in commercial, industrial and residential applications. The small catalog featured its use in residential applications. There were eight different square block patterns as well as curved units.

Insulating glass is twentieth century innovation that started in the 1930s but didn’t really enter the mass market until after WWII. Twindow was the propriety name for insulated glass from the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. This catalog featured mostly residential applications. There is one technical table that shows a 50% reduction in heat transfer when compared to single glazing.

Insulating glass is twentieth century innovation that started in the 1930s but didn’t really enter the mass market until after WWII. Twindow was the propriety name for insulated glass from the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. This catalog featured mostly residential applications. There is one technical table that shows a 50% reduction in heat transfer when compared to single glazing.

The jalousie window was popular in southern climates such as Florida because they allowed the maximum window ventilation area, which was important for home comfort prior to air conditioning. These were particularly popular for outdoor porches.

The jalousie window was popular in southern climates such as Florida because they allowed the maximum window ventilation area, which was important for home comfort prior to air conditioning. These were particularly popular for outdoor porches.

The Building Technology Heritage Library also includes catalogs for interior furnishings and equipment. Window curtains and shades are featured in this catalog from the Kirsch Company, a century old business started in 1907. Kirsch catalogs from the 1920s through the 1960s show the evolution of popular window blinds and curtains.

The Building Technology Heritage Library also includes catalogs for interior furnishings and equipment. Window curtains and shades are featured in this catalog from the Kirsch Company, a century old business started in 1907. Kirsch catalogs from the 1920s through the 1960s show the evolution of popular window blinds and curtains.

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