Case | HBS Case Collection | December 2005 (Revised March 2010)

William Levitt, Levittown and the Creation of American Suburbia

by Nitin Nohria, Anthony Mayo and Mark Benson

Abstract

Demand for low-cost housing after World War II far exceeded supply. Was this a profitable new market? New York developer William Levitt had to decide. During World War II, Levitt was eager to build basic housing for the working class--otherwise, Levitt & Sons would have been idle due to the federal government ban on all nonessential construction, like the luxury homes that Levitt & Sons typically built on Long Island, New York. Under a contract with the U.S. Navy, Levitt & Sons erected 2,000 homes in a year's time, an effort that gave Levitt & Sons the opportunity to perfect rapid home construction techniques. Levitt had to decide if he would apply those techniques to meet the post-war housing demand. Levitt & Sons had the manufacturing know-how. Would sizable profits follow? Levitt needed to understand the implications of the home improvement loans and mortgages the government guaranteed to returning servicemen as part of their veterans benefits. Levitt had the opportunity to parlay his own World War II experience as a Navy Seabee to market these homes by appealing to the sentiments of veterans like himself who were eager to return home and settle down after the fighting stopped. Levitt's decision would have profound social, economic, and political impact on the lives of returning veterans, their spouses, and their children--the Baby Boomers.

Keywords: Demographics; Construction; Business History; Housing; Leadership; Growth and Development Strategy; Product Development; Business and Government Relations; Construction Industry; Real Estate Industry; United States; New York (state, US);

Citation:

Nohria, Nitin, Anthony Mayo, and Mark Benson. "William Levitt, Levittown and the Creation of American Suburbia." Harvard Business School Case 406-062, December 2005. (Revised March 2010.)