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Barn Blog

February 3, 2015

The History of Pole Barns

While humans have been using ground-embedded posts or beams to build sturdy, reliable structures for almost as long as society has existed, pole barns as we currently think of them have their roots in 1930s America.

The economic hardship of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl created a need for practical, economical ways to build agricultural buildings and other structures. Post-frame construction became a natural solution to this problem, as much of America had access to wooden telephone poles and recycled metal sheeting. In fact, the modern phrase, "pole barn," is a shortening of "telephone pole barn."

The efficiency of pole barns' post-frame construction meant that cash-strapped farmers and others could get the maximum return for a minimum material investment. A few old poles and some sheeting was all it took to put up a new structure, versus the substantial time and materials needed for a full foundation and crossbeam supports.

During World War II, pole barns' streamlined nature came in especially useful once again, with the government imposing a $1,500 cap on the construction of all new barns, in order to conserve materials for the war effort. Requiring so few materials, pole barns became the obvious solution for anyone looking to build within the government's strict budget.

In the boom years after the war, advances in technology made sure of pole barns' continued popularity. The invention of chemically-treated wood made way for longer lifespans for pole barns. Methods of reinforcing wood trusses with metal plates also meant that pole barns could be built larger and taller than had been previously possible.

Whereas before pole barns were largely used as cheap, easy structures for migrant farmers who couldn't justify the time and expense of putting up traditional permanent structures, they soon became a sturdy, reliable structures for a variety of uses.

By the 1980s, pole barns were being used for farm storage, animal shelters, retail stores, workshops, garages, and more. Fast-forward to today, and the popularity of pole barn structures has continued unabated. New products like post-protectors and other advancements in technology are increasing pole barns' lifespans longer and longer, while the demand for smaller, more efficient dwellings after the heyday of the McMansion has meant that pole barns are increasingly popular as homes.

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