William Levitt

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William Levitt
Born William Jaird Levitt
(1907-02-11)February 11, 1907
Died January 28, 1994(1994-01-28) (aged 86)
Nationality American
Occupation Real-estate developer
Known for American suburban development (Levittowns)

William Jaird Levitt (February 11, 1907 – January 28, 1994) was an American real-estate developer widely credited as the father of modern American suburbia.[1][2][3] He came to symbolize the new suburban growth with his use of mass-production techniques to construct large developments of houses, eponymously named Levittowns, selling for under $10,000. Many other relatively inexpensive suburban developments soon appeared throughout the country. While he did not invent the building of communities of affordable single-family homes within driving distance of major areas of employment, his innovations in providing affordable housing popularized this type of planned community in the years following World War II.[4] His legacy remains criticized for its long-term effects of replacing farmland with suburban sprawl.

His nicknames included "The King Of Suburbia" [5] and "Inventor of the Suburb." At his height, when he was building one suburban house every 16 minutes,[citation needed] he compared his successes to those of Henry Ford's automobile assembly line.[5] In achieving his housing development success, he also became one of the visible examples of the prevailing business practice of many contemporary real estate developers of the era to cater to the common racism of his intended clientele, developing "white-only" enclaves in the neighborhoods he created.[6][7] Environmentalists[who?] also find issue with the suburban lifestyle he helped to create.

Historian Kenneth Jackson wrote of Levitt & Sons: "The family that had the greatest impact on postwar housing in the United States was Abraham Levitt and his sons, William and Alfred, who ultimately built more than 140,000 houses and turned a cottage industry into a major manufacturing process".[8]


Levitt was born into a Jewish family who were originally poor immigrants from Russia and Austria,[9] his immigrant grandfather was a rabbi from eastern Europe.[10] As President of Levitt & Sons, the real-estate development company founded by his father Abraham Levitt near the start of the Great Depression, William Levitt oversaw all aspects of the company except for the designs of the homes they built. Design duties fell to William's brother Alfred.

Prior to World War II, Levitt & Sons built mostly upscale housing on and around Long Island, New York. During the 1930s, they built the North Strathmore community at Manhasset, New York on the former Onderdonk farm.[11] After returning from the war, during which he served in the Navy as a lieutenant in the Seabees, William Levitt saw a need for affordable housing for the returning veterans.

Construction of Levittown, New York[edit]

Levitt & Sons chose an area known as Island Trees near Hempstead, Long Island as the site for its huge building project after the war. The Company named it Levittown. Levitt's innovation in creating this planned community was to build the houses in the manner of an assembly line.[4] In normal assembly lines, the workers stay stationary and the product moves down the line. In Levitt's homebuilding assembly line, the product (houses) obviously could not move. Only the workers would do the moving. Residents started moving into Levittown, New York in 1947. Houses sold for between $6,995 and $8,000 with monthly payments as low as $57, a low price even by 1947 standards. The residents would come to be known as Levittowners.

Other Levittown projects[edit]

Levitt went on to plan and build another community of more than 17,000 homes in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which saw its first residents in 1952. Willingboro, New Jersey was originally built as a Levittown, and bears several Levittown-specific street names such as Levitt Parkway. Levittown, Puerto Rico, built in the 1960s, was also one of Levitt's projects.

During the late 1950s, Levitt and Sons also developed the community known as "Belair at Bowie," in Bowie, Maryland. In 1957 they acquired the historic Belair Mansion and estate, home of Maryland's colonial Governor Samuel Ogle and his Belair Stables.[12] In 1959 the community was annexed by Bowie. He also built in Palm Coast, Florida, Richmond, Virginia and Fairfax, Virginia. Also, in the early 1960s, the company built a 5000 house community in north central New Jersey called Strathmore-at-Matawan. The Strathmore name had originally been used by Levitt & Sons in its upper middle class developments on Long Island in the 1930s. Levitt even built near Paris at Lésigny in Seine-et-Marne, and at Mennecy in Essonne, France.[13] He was awarded the Frank P. Brown Medal in 1965.

Levitt & Sons was sold to ITT International Telephone and Telegraph in 1968 for a reported $90 million. Levitt subsequently lost much of his wealth in unsuccessful investments.



  1. ^ "Little boxes.(brief history of William Levitt's Levittowns)". Canada and the World Backgrounder. Retrieved 2010-02-11. 
  2. ^ "Marquis Who's Who - William Levitt". Marquis Who's Who. Retrieved 2010-02-11. [dead link]
  3. ^ "William Levitt". Top Business Entrepreneurs. Retrieved 2010-02-11. 
  4. ^ a b Suburban Legend WILLIAM LEVITT
  5. ^ a b http://therealdeal.com/issues_articles/william-levitt-the-king-of-suburbia/
  6. ^ Lacayo, Richard (1998-12-07). "William Levitt". Time Magazine. Retrieved 2010-10-01. 
  7. ^ "William Levitt: The king of suburbia". The Real Deal. Retrieved 2010-10-01. 
  8. ^ Levittown - History and Overview of Levittown. Geography.about.com (2013-07-14). Retrieved on 2013-07-21.
  9. ^ [1][dead link]
  10. ^ William Levitt: Biography from. Answers.com. Retrieved on 2013-07-21.
  11. ^ Austin N. O'Brien (February 1980). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: Horatio Gates Onderdonk House". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Retrieved 2010-10-30. 
  12. ^ Baltz, Shirley Vlasak (1984). A Chronicle of Belair. Bowie, Maryland: Bowie Heritage Committee. pp. 84–88. LCCN 85165028. 
  13. ^ "France: A Lesson from Levitt". Time (magazine). 1965-12-10. Retrieved 2011-01-11. "New European housing often looks elegant from the outside, but much of it is backward in kitchen equipment, bathroom layout, floor plans, heating, plumbing and lighting—the innards that make the shell truly livable. The gap yawns nowhere wider than in France, where 51 years of rent control have helped create a gargantuan housing shortage. Thus it is not surprising that the French have enthusiastically greeted an invasion by Long Island's William J. Levitt, the U.S.'s biggest homebuilder (fiscal 1965 sales: $60 million). More than 60,000 Frenchmen have poured out of Paris to gape at Levitt's recently opened American-style subdivision in suburban Le Mesnil-Saint-Denis (pop. 2,000)." 

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