View Full Version : History of the Quanset Hut?

02-23-04, 09:57 AM
Where did we get the name Quanset Hut? Why did they agree with that shape? Can anyone help me with these questions that I was asked by some of my coworkers?

02-23-04, 10:27 AM

Don't know if this would help.....but found this.....

Today, we build an instant house. The University of Houston's College of Engineering presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.

As WW-II war clouds gathered in 1941, the Navy knew it would soon face vast problems of moving and housing people and materiel. War is about logistics, and people need shelter. Someone had a bright idea. Why not create a cheap, lightweight, portable structure that could be put up by untrained people?

So they went to the George A. Fuller construction company in New York. The Navy wanted buildings within two months. The British had developed a light prefab structure called a Nissen hut during WW-I. Now the Navy wanted an improved version.

And they got it: Peter Dejongh and Otto Brandenberger went to work. Within a month they'd set up a production facility near Quonset, Rhode Island. They moved so quickly that they were producing units while the design was still being tinkered.

That's how the famous Quonset hut came into being. Some people thought the old Nissen hut had been modeled on Iroquois council lodges. Now the Quonset hut version had the same shape and an Iroquois-sounding name. The Indian connection was probably fortuitous. Still, the resemblance was strong. The Quonset hut skeleton was a row of semi-circular steel ribs covered with corrugated sheet metal. The ribs sat on a low steel-frame foundation with a plywood floor. The basic model was 20 feet wide and 48 feet long with 720 square feet of usable floor space. The larger model was 40 by 100 feet.

So we entered the war armed with this cheap housing meant for airstrips, MASH units, barracks -- you name it. Historian Michael Lamm tells how Quonsets were strung together in Guam to form a 54,000-square-foot warehouse.

Around 170,000 Quonset huts were produced during the war -- enough to house the combined populations of Portland and Seattle. Then the war ended, and they were too good a resource to throw away. So the military sold them to civilians for about a thousand dollars each. They made serviceable single-family homes.

Returning veterans now occupied Quonset huts by choice. Universities made them into student housing. Architects took an interest and gussied them up in odd ways. Churches and small businesses took up residence in them. In 1948 the Sacramento Peak observatory was housed in Quonset huts. Playwright Robert Finton has written a play about them. He titled it Tents of Tin.

Drive your streets today and you'll see them here and there. Much more than relics of war, they're icons of a day in our history -- icons that spread all the way from North Africa to the Aleutian Islands. And now, a new memorial museum for war correspondent Ernie Pyle has just been built of Quonset huts. Once in a while, a really good design surfaces -- robust, simple, and enduring. The DC-3, the Jeep, and the Quonset hut are all examples of the clear thinking that was needed to keep us out of serious trouble, back in the 1940s.

I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston, where we're interested in the way inventive minds work.





benny rutledge
02-23-04, 12:37 PM
Drifter,you are exactly right.Believe it or not,the History Channel thought the Quonset hut was interesting enough to do a 1 Hr. story on.As a Navy Brat I found myself living in one in Hawaii (52-54)The Tropical rain storms beating on the building used to scare the Hell out of me.MCRD San Diego still had em' when I took Recruit training in 67'.

02-23-04, 12:42 PM
Geez! We lived in WWI quarters at Parris Island in '56. Unreal.
3rd, 4th and 5th battalions (where 3rd Bn. is now) all were Nissan huts. We were 16 to a hut. D.I.'s could sneak up on you from all directions.
We had footlockers, one community wall locker, hung our rifles under our racks with blanket roll straps and had a "show" kerosene heater (never turned it on and we were there Oct.-Jan.).

02-23-04, 03:07 PM
In March 1941 Admiral Ben Moreell, chief of Navy Yards and Docks, got together with the George A. Fuller Co. to make a prefabricated, knockdown shelter to be built in the United States and shipped to distant bases to be easily and quickly assembled by troops in the field.
Fuller was given 60 days to deliver the first order. They studied the British Nissen hut, a semicylindrical steel hut, named for it's designer Captain Nissen. They decided it was too complicated.

The first Fuller design, created at their Quonset Point, Rhode Island facility, was a half-cylinder, corrugated steel structure with arch ribs. It had insulation, pressed-wood interior, could be erected on concrete, on pilings, or on the ground with a wood floor. The wood ends had a door and two windows. The first units were 16 by 36 feet but soon they made them in 20 x 40 foot and 20 x 56 foot models. The 56 foot one provided for an overhang past the end walls. They also made a 40 x 100 foot warehouse and other sizes.

The army ordered 16,000 of them after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Eventually 170,000 were produced.

The outsides were galvanized and, that being too easy to spot from the air, they were painted olive drab.

The steel used in this design was a bit of a problem. So they designed one using all pressed-wood. This design was conjured in the Seattle area and was termed the Pacific Hut.

Most of the huts in Kodiak were steel 16 by 36 feet with four foot side walls. There were two later design huts erected at Spruce Cape in 1951.

The exact number of huts in Kodiak is hard to determine. Most of the maps do not differentiate between a wood-frame structure and a Quonset hut. The huts on Long Island seem to be primarily stock units. In Bell's Flats many were modified with wood-frame additions that appear to be 1943 era as evidenced by the material used, such as the ship-lap siding. On Noch Drive there are at least eight huts in use visible from the street and on the undeveloped part of the street there are another four abandoned ones. On Gara Drive one is in use as a primary residence, one is stripped of it's sheet metal but the ribs are standing, and one is attached to the back of a residence. They are still being used today.

02-24-04, 09:26 AM
Yep, these responses were helpful. Now I can take this info to my buddies at work, Gracias and Semper Fidelis!!