Simple to manufacture and easy to assemble, the Quonset Hut is an easily recognizable architectural form. The building was designed in 1941 by a team of engineers at Quonset Point Naval Air Station in Rhode Island, hence the name. With American preparing for the possibility of war, the Navy had approached the George A. Fuller Company to design a prefabricated, portable structure that could be shipped in pieces to faraway military outposts. The structure had to be able to be set up quickly by untrained personnel and had to serve a variety of purposes. A team of ten could build a typical twenty-foot Quonset hut in one day.
The basic Quonset Hut came with multiple pieces of curved steel ribs for the frame; a one-inch tongue-and-groove plywood floor; wood fiber insulation between an outer shell of corrugated metal and an inner lining of Masonite; plus doors, windows and a chimney. Demand for the prefabricated structure by the various military branches was high, and the Fuller Company couldn’t build them fast enough. As a result, the Navy let out another contract to the Stran-Steel Company, which improved upon the design and soon took over a bulk of the production.
By the end of WWII, an estimated 150,000 units had been built around the world. Designed to serve 86 official uses, two basic sizes were offered: the 20 and the 40. The 20 measured twenty feet by forty-eight feet, while the 40 (also called the “Elephant Hut”) stood forty feet wide by one-hundred feet long.
By the end of 1941, other companies began developing their own versions of the Quonset Hut. Some, like the Butler and Cowin Companies, developed Quonset-type structures to sell to the Army or anyone else who wanted to buy them. Others created hut designs in response to special needs, such as the wooden Pacific Hut (built in Seattle), and the Emkay Hut (built in Boise), which were created to save metal resources. The heavy-steel Armco Hut was intended for ordnance storage and air raid shelters, and the Jamesway Hut was designed for even quicker assembly in cold Arctic regions.
After World War II, a number of surplus Quonset huts found their way into civilian life, and a few of the companies continued to make and sell versions of the Quonset Hut. The Stran-Steel Company set up dealers all across the country to promote a variety of uses for the huts, including use as a single family home or agricultural outbuilding. However, despite the low cost, some as little as $1.50 per sq. ft., the Quonset Hut never became as popular as stick built structures. Immediately after the war, many were being used as temporary spaces by college campuses and federal agencies such as the Bureau of Reclamation and Hanford. They quickly became out of favor and today, scattered across the state you will find just a handful of Quonset huts being used for agricultural purposes, repair shops, and small business shops.