Hodgson grew up on a small farm on Farm Street in Dover, Massachusetts, a small agricultural community about 20 miles southwest of Boston. The economy was mainly agricultural with numerous farms growing hay and producing milk for the local market. His interest in developing portable or prefabricated buildings began with his interest in poultry raising. Failing to find adequate and efficient appliances, he began creating his own. In 1891, E.F. sold to A.F. Hunter of South Natick, MA, editor of Farm Poultry, some of his first brooders which he had been most successful with. Hunter found E.F.'s product superior to anything he was using and urged him to put them on the market.
So, in 1892, E.F. started to do just that. This effort produced the Peep-o'-Day portable coops and brooders and ancillary equipment which evolved into portable poultry and brooder houses under the trade marked name of Wigwarms. By this time E.F. had developed a simple system which could build small houses in complete sections which could be erected in a few hours using an equally simple bolt system instead of nails. To the production of tool-houses, poultry-houses, dog houses, and other small buildings, he created the single room Hodgson Camp Cottage, and then the Hodgson Summer Cottages.
But it was the introduction of the Hodgson Auto Stables in 1900 upon which the E.F. Hodgson Company took hold. As the automobile developed in dependability and the environment became more user friendly to this new means of transportation, people found it more convenient to spend vacation time in homes specifically designed for the summer and vacation market. E.F. quickly used his simple building system to develop year-round Hodgson buildings by manipulating the basic system of fixed 6'x12' wall, roof, and floor units which were bolted together.
E.F. built a small factory on his father's farm, but with growth he moved down the road into the old center of Dover where Main Street, Farm Street, Pegan Lane, and Springdale Avenue all meet in an area called Bliss' Corners. He prospered until a fire leveled his new factory in 1911. After the fire he built a factory close to the railroad which had changed the center of Dover in 1862. This new factory was built along side the railroad and had its own siding to support Hodgson's shipment of product easily and cheaply.
By this time Hodgson buildings were appearing all over the world. The 1937 Hodgson Prefabricated Houses Catalog calls the story of the Hodgson Prefabricated House the idea of a young and unknown New Englander who achieved world-fame and who became the father of an industry. "He, alone, can be credited for the beauty, convenience , and durability of today's Hodgson House. For this pioneer of prefabrication has not been content to stand still. He has been responsible for many of our modern methods of building construction. He has kept an open mind and accepted new ideas and new materials if they proved themselves worth while. And though Hodgson Houses are far better today than they were years ago, many of the first built are still standing."
So correct! In the fall of 2005, I assisted a young contractor who had been given a five bedroom Hodgson House U design, in prime condition, for a dollar. That house, had served as a faculty residence at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, Marine Biological Laboratories, was taken apart and trucked away to a new life on the Maine coast. That building was over 75 years old and still had value and use in a society which all too often destroys rather than saves.
That same catalog goes on to say: "No matter where you go in this country, or in any country, you will find Hodgson Houses...and satisfied owners. For example, on some of America's finest estates--Astor's, Ames', Belmont's, Cabot's, DuPont's, Endicott's, Fenno's, Field's, Gould's, Iselin's, Lowell's, McAlpin's, Morgan's, Rockefeller's, Vanderbilt's and many others--Hodgson Houses are in constant use, and are well loved.
In Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America, you will see Hodgson Houses that have lost none of their sturdiness and comfort, even though they have endured earthquakes, tornadoes, and the extremes of heat and cold."
Hodgson Houses have served the military, governments at all levels, businesses, hospitals, camps, gymnasiums, schools, churches, and the average citizen all over the United States and the world. Many of these buildings still are doing their job. Just recently, I visited a YMCA outdoor camp in Connecticut that purchased approximately 20 - 25 Hodgson structures in 1927-1929, and is still using some ten actively. Good ideas are still good ideas even though the product may have stood there 79 years. E.F. Hodgson was a New Englander, through and through.
Note: Sears was not in the prefab market before Hodgson. Sears did not offer a prefabricated building. Sears offered a pre-cut and fitted building which was purchased as separate numbered pieces and then assembled.
I find it interesting that modular, read prefabricated, is on the rise all over the world for the same reasons that E.F. did it--ease, value, cost and need. And that is certainly the case for the notion of prefab modular building.
E.F didn't make the first prefab buildings in the U.S. Most scholars will tell you that the first prefab buildings were bought into the American Colonies in the late 17th century via Cape Ann on the North Shore of Massachusetts. E.F. chose to describe himself as "America's First Prefabricator." I would argue that he had a right to that title as his portable houses were the first American-made prefabs.