Quonset Hut History

The Steel Building Has Native American Beginnings: Well, at Least in Its Name!

You know most people think steel buildings are boring. Yet, those of us working in the industry know how interesting the history and process of the fabrication of these steel structure buildings for storage, workshops and other uses really are.

The History

Actually the idea of steel buildings is an old one, dating back to slightly before the second World War.WWII Quonset hut

The Problem

Even before 1942, the US Military knew that ware was imminent. There was just one problem.To fight the war overseas they would need a quick, effective and inexpensive way to house people and protect equipment housed in bases in the far off continents.

In and about 1910 the British developed a type of light prefab structure which they named the Nissen Hutt, but this was a rather primitive design that needed improving.

In 1940, at a time when a new Navy base was being finished at Quonset Point, Rhode Island, two construction companies took interest in designing temporary huts, and they had 2 months to come up with a solution.  They used the prior military quonset hutBritish design as a foundation but used corrugated sheets and attached them with nuts and bolts.  These were then covered with plywood, doors and windows. To insulate the interior they sed interior Masonite and a one-inc tongue-in-groove plywood floor.

Yes, it was a new invention, and the construction designers had another issue; what would they name this new temporary and portable housing option? Because they invented it on Quonset Point, and Quonset means Boundary in the Narragansett Native American language, they decided to name it Quonset Hut.

The first hut was a semi-circular building that was 16-feet wide by 36-feet long. It was made of 1-inch thick steel supported with angle iron arches. It was a magnificent piece of engineering which took  eight men just one day to erect.

The summer of 1941 was the first time the Quonset Hut was shipped overseas. Several thousands of these steel metal buildings were produced. It was the perfect solution as anyone with a hammer and nail could set it up. It just took a crew of between 6 to 8 men to construct. Over the years the Quonset steel building was modified, and fabrication was moved out to the mid-west, and eventually grew to a 20-foot by 48-foot steel building structure.

After varying design updates the Quonset steel building ended up requiring less shipping space than tents with frames and wood floors, and these steel structures could accommodate just as many men.

What Made the Quonset Steel Structure so Popular

The interior of the Quonset Hut was big enough to be used for a variety of things including, offices, medical facilities, barracks, bakeries, theaters, latrines bakeries, chapels, s-model-recreation-halllatrines, libraries and many other things.

Larger structures were later designed, taking the Quonset hut steel building as inspirations. This became the large 40 by 100 feet steel structures we often see or use today. Over the years the design has changed and the weight has become less, but the steel building can be said to be akin to the Volkswagen bug and the Jeep, an invention that keeps on working.

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