The Aladdin Company was founded as the North American Construction Company in 1906 by two brothers, William J. Sovereign and Otto E. Sovereign. William was a lawyer while Otto was an advertising man. The company was one of the earliest and longest-lived manufacturers of catalog (“Readi-cut”) houses. Although second in sales volume to the better-known Sears Roebuck & Company “kit homes,” Aladdin (as it became officially known in 1916) entered the business before Sears and remained in it some forty years after the last Sears home was sold.
Aladdin’s primary product was single family dwellings. The firm, however, also sold other products. As early as 1914 and as late as the 1960’s the firm sold house furnishings through prepared catalogs. An Aladdin trailer was introduced in 1934 and an expandable “Pullman Home” (a sort of modular house) in 1937. Neither the trailer or the modular home, however, were long lived. Throughout its history the firm was also involved in real estate speculation, usually involving relatively small parcels of land in the Bay City area. However, in the 1920’s, the company built Aladdin City, a planned community in Florida. Aladdin City, however, became a victim of the depression-era slump in Florida’s economy.
Despite these efforts to diversity, Aladdin remained primarily a seller of homes. Thus the firm’s fortunes were closely tied to that of the housing industry and followed the trends of the national economy. It prospered during both world wars by supplying military camp buildings to the U.S. government and workers’ housing to key industries. The company was particularly proud of filling and order for 200 houses from the Austin Motor Company of Birmingham, England in 1917. Sales boomed after World War I and during the prosperous 1920s but slumped dramatically during the Depression. After World War II the firm resumed production of civilian homes in 1947 and during the post-war years Aladdin again experienced robust sales. Operating losses for 1958, 1959 and 1960, however, made it evident that a changing housing market demanded new approaches by Aladdin. The problem report completed in 1961 attempted to identify problems and solutions. The “Build-It-Yourself” (B-I-Y) System introduced in 1962 promoted “the best features of Readi-cut and Pre-fab construction” (an aim enunciated by William F. Sovereign in the stockholders’ meeting of December 15, 1961.)
Despite tentative changes such as more preassembled, prenailed components, business continued to decline. In the 1970’s the company was unable to meet the challenge of ‘stagflation’ (inflation combined with a stagnating economy) late in that decade. As a result the firm ceased production in 1982.
Aladdin was always a family-owned company based in Bay City, Michigan. At various times, it also operated mills in Portland, Oregon; Hattiesburg, Mississippi; and Wilmington, North Carolina. The company enjoyed remarkable continuity of management; the founders remained in control until mid-century, Otto (Vice President, Treasurer and General Manager) died in 1954 and William J. (President) in 1968. William’s son, William F. Sovereign became president following his father’s death on June 5 1968, although he had been the defacto executive officer for some time. He continued to serve as president until the firm closed its doors.