We’ve all seen them—-those small square receptacles that held countless generations of geraniums on the front porches of the US. Yet we forget that at one time, these were a very new thing.
Going back to the turn of the century years, there was much research and development going into the formulation of—and building with—-concrete. Yes, the ancient Romans were using concrete as far back as the first century BC, but in late Victorian America, it was still very much a wood-stone-brick-cast iron kind of country. Concrete was fast becoming the material that was making life better for a new world. Streets and sidewalks could be paved with it, buildings could be constructed sturdier, faster and more fireproof with it. For home construction, the poured-in-place construction method was still in the development stages, but building them from concrete blocks had really taken off. Such homes were not universally admired, perhaps, but the masonry skill necessary to build a structure out of the new concrete blocks was not as fine as that required to build of traditional stone or brick masonry. Into this picture entered Sears Roebuck and their series of “kit” homes. Yes, Sears sold plans, materials and—importantly—their “Wizard” concrete block forming machine to enable the industrious man to build his own home from the ground on up. This machine was being touted as something of a potential money-maker for that industrious man, since he could potentially produce x-number of blocks per day and potentially sell a portion, making the “Wizard” become a home money-making proposition. If this sounds like a huge amount of work, well it was—even to a generation that didn’t necessarily shy away from a little hard work. Sears eventually discontinued the concrete-block-making aspect of their kit homes, according to some sources within 10 years, although their line of kit homes of wood, etc. continued much longer.
So into this picture, enter the enterprising Joe (or Jane) that saw how easily this new concrete could be formed with little by way of advanced skills or experience. While they wouldn’t attempt building an entire house this way, a few smaller projects in the off hours was do-able. Cast iron forms were available to make planters, benches, garden ornaments and other items that could be easily produced and then sold, thus creating a small cottage industry. In the shop we have one of those very cast iron forms, used to construct just the sort of small square planters seen in the photo. No wonder these things are everywhere!