• AWCI Centennial - 1950s

    The 1950s: Plaster vs. Drywall

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AWCI's Centennial: The 1950s

“Let’s close ranks and go out and lick our real competitors.”
— Oscar A. Reum, CPIA president, to union plasterers in Boston, 1920

World

Peace came in 1953 when the Korean War ended, the Gross National Product and consumer spending rose, and rock-and-roll arrived.

Industry

Construction boomed during the 1950s. Congress funded public housing. It guaranteed mortgage loans to veterans and gave mortgage debt favorable tax treatment. Housing expenditures doubled between 1940 and 1960, Encyclopedia of American Economic History says. Tract housing projects surged outside of the big cities; Levittown, Long Island, was a notable example.

R. Terry Blazier of East St. Louis, Illinois, served as CPIA president, 1953-1954.

R. Terry Blazier of East St. Louis, Illinois, served as CPIA president, 1953-1954.

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Here are five innovations that stood out in the 1950s:

Fireproofing. Fireproofing with lath, plaster and lightweight aggregate appeared in the market in the 1940s and grew during the 1950s. The use of lightweight vermiculite and perlite “led to one of the greatest eras in the history of lath and plastering,” said Plastering Industries, the association’s official journal.

AWCI Centennial Book
PLASTER VS. DRYWALL

Protecting the plastering craft was built in to the association’s “DNA.” It was, after all, the Contracting Plasterers’ International Association—renamed Contracting Plasterers’ and Lathers’ International Association in 1957. CPLIA had battled substitutes to lath and plastering from the beginning. Now, despite intense promotion, it was losing the battle. Drywall had surpassed 50 percent market share of residential construction. And, drywall’s growth would only accelerate; the development of self-drilling screws and cold-formed steel framing during the 1960s would make sure of that. Would CPLIA continue to obsess in defending the turf of plasterers? Or, would it adapt to the market and adopt wallboard construction?

View this decade’s complete content in the Centennial Book’s digital edition.

Mechanical tools. The 1950s saw the introduction of plastering pumps and applicators.

Thin coats. In the late 1950s, the Plastering Development Corporation, which was associated with McNulty Brothers, succeeded in the mechanization of finish coat plastering. The company originated the lath and plaster curtain wall, according to 1957 convention proceedings, and used its plastering machines to build several all-plaster houses “using light weight steel and Portland cement and gypsum plaster,” association documents state.

Glass and Steel

The 1950s saw the appearance of the international style of glass and steel architecture, such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s S.R. Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago (1956) and the Seagram Building in New York City (shown).

Seagram Building in New York City

“Dry-Wall.” Little could be done to stop the advance of gypsum wallboard. Gypsum products had branded themselves around cost savings, ease of use and non-combustibility. The Gypsum Association ran advertisements touting gypsum’s fire resistance. And, the Gypsum Drywall Contractors International formed in 1957 to support carpenters and painters working with wallboard. Gypsum production nearly doubled during the 1950s.

Prefabrication. In the 1950s, prefabricated systems appeared in exterior cladding and residential framing. Prefabrication augmented the spread of residential tract developments. Prefabricated homes accounted for 4.8 percent of all new homes built in 1950, according to CPIA records. Residential prefabrication was a $1 billion market in 1956, accounting for 10 percent of single-family starts.

Industry Promotion Moves Forward
Industry Promotion Moves Forward

The National Bureau for Lathing and Plastering formed in Denver 1952 (incorporated in 1953) to promote the industry. Its oversight included (from left) John E. Rooney (Operative Plasterers), William J. McSorley (Wood, Wire and Metal athers), Joseph M. Baker Sr. (National Bureau managing director), Joseph D. McNulty (board member), William Martin (board member), R. Floyd Jennings (CPIA president) and Edmond F. Venzie (National Bureau president).

AWCI: Action

The first convention in the 1950s took place in San Francisco. The top issues to discuss included union relations, lath and plaster promotion and member participation.

Union agreements. In 1950, CPIA’s board discussed the need for union agreements. A June 20, 1950, board meeting noted that local autonomy was a “universal problem.” CPIA wanted working rules made with the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Finishers’ International Association, the Brick Masons’ and Plasterers’ International Union and the Wood, Wire and Metal Lathers’ International Union.

A Washington office. In 1952, CPIA Secretary-Treasurer R. Floyd Jennings proposed a budget of $7,200 to run his office—$2,600 for office salary, $1,260 for rent, $1,200 for supplies, $1,500 for travel, $500 for convention expenses and $140 for taxes.

Industry promotion. In Denver in 1952, CPIA formalized an effort to promote lath and plastering. The National Foundation for Lathing and Plastering was reborn as the National Bureau for Lathing and Plastering. (It was incorporated in 1953.) Eventually, participants formed 83 local plaster and lathing bureaus across North America.

Unfortunately, joint labor-management participation in organizations came under fire by the Taft-Hartley Act. This affected the National Bureau’s promotion program by 1959. Thereafter, “a long period of unrest developed,” association records state, but added: “Many of the first-formed bureaus continued to function with success.”

CPIA becomes CPLIA. A milestone in the association’s history occurred on Thursday, Oct. 24, 1957, in Los Angeles. The association changed its name from Contracting Plasterers’ International Association to Contracting Plasterers’ and Lathers’ International Association. The word “Lathers” was added.

Industry Promotion Moves Forward
“Miss Lath and Plaster”

The National Bureau and many local bureaus ran promotions featuring “Miss Lath and Plaster” to tout the benefits of lath and plaster construction. The National Bureau had “Miss Lath and Plaster” publicity with Northwest Airlines in 1956. The Mid- Ohio Bureau’s gal shares points with Akron’s chief building inspector in 1958.

Supporting plasterers. While rules were in effect during the 1950s, the use of plastering machines generated a variety of grievances.

Regional conferences. In 1959, CPLIA established its regional conference system to encourage interim meetings between the executive board and conventioneers.

Plaster Advertising on Billboards
Plaster Advertising on Billboards

The National Bureau’s “Knock on the Wall” campaign saw a variety of approaches. The Northwest Plaster Bureau in Portland, Ore., focused on ceilings, winning three national billboard advertising awards for its efforts in 1958.

AWCI: People

The 1950s saw a variety of dedicated individuals serve the association. Here are some of these key players.

Association presidents. Oscar A. Reum and John H. Hampshire were CPIA’s first two presidents. Edmond F. Venzie served as the third president from 1945 to 1953. After Venzie, five men served as CPIA presidents during the 1950s.

R. Terry Blazier of East St. Louis, took office in 1953 as CPIA’s fourth president. He served a one-year term. Before that he served as the association’s secretary-treasurer. As a plastering contractor, he and his business partner, Homer P. Huntley, pioneered the use of plastering pumps and spray guns. The Huntley and Blazier Company used metal lath and a machine-applied plaster system to create curtain walls for public schools.

When R. Floyd Jennings became president in 1954, he moved the association’s offices permanently to Washington, D.C. At first, CPIA shared space with the National Bureau for Lathing and Plastering. Later, CPIA found space nearby. Jennings also was involved in the hiring of Joseph M. Baker Jr., the association’s first full-time executive administrator.

Loyd G. Peterson served as CPIA president from 1955 to 1957. Peterson, a lather by trade, played a key role in proposing change in the association’s bylaws to admit lathing contractors into membership. CPIA became CPLIA under his oversight. In March 1958, Peterson was named president of the National Bureau for Lathing and Plastering.

A plasterer by trade, J. Carroll Duncan of Alhambra, Calif., became CPLIA’s seventh president in 1957Duncan served as president for two years through 1959. One of his most lasting effects was a labor-management joint policy statement signed in Toledo, Ohio, on June 8, 1958. Heads of the international unions and CPLIA rejected featherbedding practices and agreed not to restrict the use of labor-saving machinery and tools. The policy statement touched on apprentice training, grievance settlements and the observance of local working rules.

CPIA held its 1953 annual convention at the Hotel Statler in Detroit.

CPIA held its 1953 annual convention at the Hotel Statler in Detroit.

E. Davis McNulty of Chicago was CLPIA president from 1959 to 1960. McNulty started work for McNulty Brothers in 1928. He attended college and completed his full apprenticeship as a plasterer. After serving as CPLIA president, McNulty served on the board of the National Bureau. He served on many arbitration boards and was an effective public relations voice for the industry.

Other key leaders. While not everyone can be mentioned, here are a few association people who have inspired generations.

Bill C. Carroll of Carroll-Manes Plastering, Albuquerque, joined CPIA in 1953. He attended his first CPIA convention in 1955 in Pittsburgh. In the late 1950s, Carroll was asked if he would fill a vacancy on CPLIA’s board of directors. He accepted. Later, at the age of 40, Carroll became CPLIA president in 1969.

In 1954, Saburo Sugiyama of Japan became the first Japanese national to join the association. He was chief executive officer of Sugiyama Construction Company and Sugiyama Plastering Company. As president of the Japan Plasterers Association, Sugiyama believed that involvement in international circles was crucial to the success of his country’s plastering industry. For the work he did at home and abroad, Emperor Hirohito of Japan awarded Japan’s highest civilian accolade, the Third Order of the Sacred Treasurer, to Sugiyama.

CPLIA’s 1958 Goodwill Tour of Europe disembarks from New York City.

CPLIA’s 1958 “Goodwill Tour” of Europe disembarks from New York City.

Joseph M. Baker Jr. became CPIA’s executive secretary on Nov. 1, 1955. Baker was required to register as a lobbyist in Congress and join both the American Trade Association of Executives and the Washington Trade Association of Executives. Baker’s salary was $150. CPIA paid for his monthly parking fee of $22.50 and provided an expense account of $200 a month.

Robert L. Maidt was CPLIA president from 1963 to 1964. He was passionate about industry promotion and had a flair for the dramatic. At CPIA’s 1957 convention in Los Angeles, Maidt placed a $10 bill under one of the chairs in the room. He hung signs throughout the hotel that read “YCMMBSOYS.” At the convention, he asked delegates to stand and search for the cash. When it was found, Maidt said: “That man made $10 by simply getting out of his chair.” He explained: “The point I wish to illustrate by this is the meaning of these nine initials—‘You Can’t Make Money By Sitting On Your Seat.’” The crowd burst into applause.

Recap

Protecting the plastering craft was built in to the association’s “DNA.” It was, after all, the Contracting Plasterers’ International Association—renamed Contracting Plasterers’ and Lathers’ International Association in 1957. CPLIA had battled substitutes to lath and plastering from the beginning. Now, despite intense promotion, it was losing the battle. Drywall had surpassed 50 percent market share of residential construction. And, drywall’s growth would only accelerate; the development of self-drilling screws and cold-formed steel framing during the 1960s would make sure of that. Would CPLIA continue to obsess in defending the turf of plasterers? Or, would it adapt to the market and adopt wallboard construction?