The History of Drywall

Drywall

Everything has a history.  Even drywall. (I always called it by the brand name Sheetrock).

As the son of a general contractor I have spent some time hanging drywall.  Since I am about 6’8″ I was always the guy who got to hang the ceiling sheets.  (Not fun–your arms get tired).  Anyway, out of respect for all the full-time drywallers out there I thought I would call your attention to Haniya Rae’s piece at the website of The Atlantic: “An Exciting History of Drywall.”

Here is a taste:

Drywall, also known as plasterboard or wallboard, consists of two paperboards that sandwich gypsum, a powdery white or gray sulfate mineral. Gypsum is noncombustible, and compared to other wall materials, like solid wood and plaster, gypsum boards are much lighter and cheaper. As a result, drywall is popular in homes across the U.S.: According to the Gypsum Association, more than 20 billion square feet of drywall is manufactured each year in North America. It’s the staple of a billion-dollar construction industry that depends on quick demolition and building.

But as New Orleans showed, convenience comes with a cost.

Drywall was invented in 1916. The United States Gypsum Corporation, a company that vertically integrated 30 different gypsum and plaster manufacturing companies 14 years prior, created it to protect homes from urban fires, and marketed it as the poor man’s answer to plaster walls. A 1921 USG ad billed drywall as a fireproof wall that went up with “no time [lost] in preparing materials, changing types of labor, or waiting for the building to dry.”

Drywall didn’t catch on right away, but in the 1940s, sales grew rapidly thanks to the baby boom. Between 1946 and 1960, more than 21 million new homes were built nationwide for the tens of millions of additional babies. “People wanted white bread and confectioner’s sugar,” says Mouzon. “They wanted a neat, tidy little white-boxed world in the 1950s after the war. It made perfect sense then.”

Today, USG is by far the largest of the eight gypsum manufacturers in North America. It holds around a quarter of the wallboard industry’s market share and does $4 billion in sales a year. (Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffet’s conglomerate, owns 27 percent of the company.) It gets its gypsum from mines or as a synthetically engineered byproduct of coal-fired power plants. If current production rate stays constant, USG believes there’s at least 350 years worth of gypsum available on Earth.

Read the entire piece here.