Video: Asbestos Was Routine in U.S. Home Construction in 1950s and ’60s

Asbestos Cement Products

It’s amazing what a little research about asbestos can dig up. In this case, a really old video about how prevalent asbestos was during the heyday of American home construction.

This one is entitled, “The Story of Modern Sidewalls for the Homes of America.” It was made in 1952 and produced by the Asbestos-Cement Products Association, and it’s quite a fascinating piece of history when viewed through the prism of hindsight.

What we know now about asbestos and exposure to it makes you shudder when you see these 1950s scientists handling asbestos as if it were a completely benign substance.

As we know now, asbestos is anything but benign. It is highly toxic, a cause of mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases and cancers. Asbestos exposure is something to be avoided unless proper protections (clothing and ventilation) are in place.

Much of this video is about the “beauty and functionality” of home siding made with asbestos and includes an interview with Norman Denny, then-vice president of materials for Levitt & Sons, builders in Levittown, New York. There is also a clip of homes built in Southern California.

“From New York to Los Angeles, from Miami to Seattle; in every climate and every community, this new sidewall has brought better homes,” the narrator says.

As strange as this seems, though, this kind of construction is quite normal for American building in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. That is, right up until regulations hit asbestos industries.

This video comes from the Prelinger Archives, a collection of more than 60,000 everyday films and videos compiled by Rick Prelinger. This video, like many in the collection, are in the public domain.

One word of warning: This is a long video. Start it at the 3-minute mark to skip some the hokey parts.


Mark Hall joined the Mesothelioma Center as a writer in 2011. Prior to joining the content team, Mark graduated from the University of Florida and then spent several years writing about business, entrepreneurship and technology for various online publications.

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