In Woody Allen’s last masterpiece, the critically disparaged Deconstructing Harry, Woody’s character — a loathsome writer — imagines himself in hell and meets The Devil (played by Billy Crystal). Woody takes an industrial elevator down to the ninth (and lowest) ring of hell and walks into the atrium, from where he sees the damned in boiling vats and others being prodded to their place of eternal rest by imps.
The first person he actually meets and greets in hell is balding, aged man dressed in a vulgar sports coat and tie, an imp behind him leading him on to his place of damnation.
Woody reaches out and touches the man on the arm.
“What did you do?” he says. The man, briefly interrupting his journey to eternal damnation, confesses,
“I invented aluminum siding.”
Francis “Frank” Hoess was a Hammond, Indiana artisan, businessman and real estate developer who is considered the father of aluminum siding.
Real Estate Developer
According to the 1940 book about building affordable housing in rural areas, ‘Rural Roads to Security, Frank Hoess began building cheap houses on farm land located 15 miles from both Hammond and Gary, Indiana, two heavily industrialized suburbs of Chicago that were home to steel-makers. The one-acre building plots were “situated along a main highroad with a bus line and a high line for electricity.” The bare-bones house, which was priced at $2,600, contained “a large kitchen, a living room, two bedrooms, a small bathroom, and an unfinished attic in which other rooms can be built.”
The basic house was unpainted and lacked any external ornamentation but came “with a small furnace and wired for electricity, but without fixtures.”
Marketed to workers in Gary and Hammond, Indiana’s smoke-stack industries, Hoess sold the houses for “a first payment of several hundred dollars” but sold some of his basic houses to workers who could not make a down payment.The houses were sold on a rent-to-own basis, with the buyer paying approximately 25% of their income in rent, which was based on amortization, 6% interest on the amount owed, and taxes. The amount owed was reduced monthly as amortization payments were made. For buyer’s who suffer a pay cut, the payment was reduced proportionally, and payments were suspended for buyers who lost their jobs until they found a new one.
Buyers who had a child had their payments suspended for a short time as “A worker can’t pay for a baby and pay for a house at the same time,” according to Hoess, “but if there is a baby, the family will care more about the house.”
After a certain period in which payments have reduced the buyer’s debt, Hoess added a wing or garage to the house, or another improvement. The additions were capped at the original $2,600 purchase price of the home.
The writers found Hoess’s business plan to be “highly unorthodox” but financially sound as Hoess was content with a 6% return on his investment. The ownership ethos from his rent-to-own scheme meant that his clients kept excellent care of their homes, which they intended to own.
The buyers were encouraged to raise vegetables on their one-acre plots of land to improve their economic situation.
Frank Hoess was credited with the invention of the configuration seen on aluminum siding til this this day. He first developed a steel siding that imitated the look of wooden clapboards in 1937.
Hoess’s great invention was the locking joint, a small flap at the top of each panel of metal siding, that locked with a flange on the bottom of the panel above it. Before the invention of the locking joint, steel siding and sheet metal had proved permeable to water due to warping. The warping of the metal created gaps that allowed water to penetrate the siding, which caused rust in the metal and rot in the underlying wood.
Frank Hoess’s locking joint created a waterproof seal that made metal siding a resilient building material. The locking joint was patented in 1939, and Hoess first used it on steel siding he used on a tract of 44 houses he built for working class families in the Chicago area.
In the first few years after World War II, manufacturers began developing and distributing aluminum siding as the metal became available. The exigencies of war production had retarded the development of the metal siding industry.
Hoess’s ingenuity helped launch a thousand Cadillacs driven by siding salesmen, known colloquially as “Tin Men.”
The development of metal siding was stymied by World War II, as metal was needed for war production. The war ended in 1945, and the following year, Hoess’s firm Hoess Brothers entered into a distribution deal with the Detroit-based firm Metal Building Products Corp.
The siding being peddled wasn’t made of steel, though, but of aluminum made by the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA). The unpainted aluminum panels and other finishing pieces and hardware were assembled in the manufacturing facility Hoess Brothers operated in Indiana.
Aluminum siding quickly caught on, particularly in the northeast. There was a post-War building boom, fueled by chap mortgages provided to returning veterans. People began leaving the cities for new suburbs such as Levittown, New York, towns built from scratch. It also proved popular on already built homes, peddled to homeowners by legions of Tin Men, many of whom were bunco artists.
In 1948, Metal Building Products went out of business. Hoess Brothers remained in business until 1960, but went under due to competition from major competitors such as ALCOA and Reynolds Metals.