The U.S. Navy needed a versatile, multi-use building in 1941 that was easy to ship and could be assembled without any special skills or tools. The original huts were five meter by eleven meter structures with steel members and a two and a half meter radius. The sides were crafted out of corrugated sheets of steel, while the two ends were plywood covered structures with doors and windows. The insides consisted of insulated and pressed wood lining with wood flooring. The building could be assembled on concrete, pilings or on the ground directly. The George A. Fuller Construction Company was chosen to produce the first lot within two months of being given the contract.
In World War II, the armed services needed housing units and storage facilities that were lightweight and Quonset huts (previously known as Nissen Huts during their service in WWI) filled the needs perfectly. They could be quickly put together and taken apart in the field without needing anything more than hand tools. They were easy to transport to the next location. They were shipped as metal building kits, which provided dependable protection against the elements for people and machinery. The huts got their name from the location of the first manufacturing facility, Quonset Point, Rhode Island.
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During World War II, roughly 150,000 to 170,000 huts were produced and the surplus was sold to the public after the war at the cost of one thousand dollars for each hut. A lot of universities bought them to be used as student housing. Even some soldiers returning from war chose to purchase these steel structures as their homes. Many are still standing today. Other than the huts that are currently being used as outbuildings, they are common at military museums.
During the war, the original design underwent many modifications - from the semi-circular shape to one with vertical side walls. This required less shipping space than tents having wood doors and frames. Quonset hut steel buildings came in multiple interior designs and larger ones were eventually developed to be used as warehouses. Later, exterior overhangs were added but then abandoned. Olive paint was also added for camouflaging purposes for huts that were prepared for war zones.
Quonsets also contributed significantly to the classic country music and the root of rock and roll. It was during the late forties and early fifties that Owen Bradley set up a brand new music studio now commonly known by the name of Decca Records. He assembled a Quonset hut steel building in Nashville, Tennessee and set the foundations of one of the most successful music recording studios in history. The shape and the steel construction of the huts proved to be ideal for the music recording business. The songs recorded in the metal Quonset building became famous due to the outstanding acoustic space provided by the arched walls. Well-known country music artists like Patsy Cline, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn and even Johnny Cash recorded music in the strong and economical Quonset hut during their most formative years.
Over the years, the original Quonset design has been modified but it still meets the initial goal of providing an all-purpose steel pre-fabricated building that can be shipped anywhere easily and be put together effortlessly. Why did they choose quonset huts? These buildings provide advantages no other pre-engineered building can provide - low cost and high security structures. In fact, the rounded shape of the arch is one of the strongest architectural structures able to withstand blizzards, hurricanes or anything else Mother Nature can come up with. That is why the form of the original Quonsets are still being employed in modern structures, while the redesigned modern Quonset huts are being used as housing, car dealerships (see Hummer), movie theatres and more.