Strong, durable, nearly unbreakable, steel has long been a favorite of militaries around the world. The earliest recorded incidence of steel use dates back to 1800 BC. Steel from this period was made by steel smelters who specialized in making weapons for their fighting forces. Since then, steel is used for everything from weapons to planes to military buildings.
World War II: The Steel Quonset Hut
At the beginning of World War II, the US Navy identified a need for a new type of military building. They needed something that was easily constructed, required almost no special skills to assemble and was easily portable. They turned to George A. Fuller Construction to meet their needs and the first Quonset Hut was produced 60 days later. They were based on their World War I predecessors, the Nissen Hut. Quonset huts could quickly be produced, shipped, and reassembled in the field. The structural steel buildings required no special skills to assemble and could be put together quickly in the field with just hand tools.
The original Quonset Hut was a 16′ by 36′ steel structure with an 8′ radius. Shaped like a half circle, the long huts were composed of corrugated steel sheets used on the top and sides with plywood on each end. The plywood ends had doors and windows to allow for circulation and entry. The interior was insulated to provide protection from the elements. The buildings had a wood lining and a wood floor to make them comfortable and usable. The versatile buildings could be placed almost anywhere there was a level concrete, wood, or steel platform.
As the war progressed, Quonset huts changed to fit the military’s needs. A more rust-resistant version was needed for troops stationed in the Pacific. The size also increased to 20′ x 48′ which produced 720 square feet of usable floor space. The interior space was open and used for every conceivable war need including barracks, latrines, clerical offices, bakeries, isolation wards, and medical and dental offices. They were also popular storage buildings for surplus military supplies. As the size of Quonset huts grew, they could be used for almost any conceivable purpose in the field and if operations had to be relocated, the Quonset huts moved with them ready to start again in a new location.
With more than 10 million troops serving each year in World War II, production of Quonset huts was very high. Between 150,000 and 170,000 Quonset huts were manufactured during World War II. When the war ended in 1945 the military had a surplus of Quonset huts on hand. They sold many of these surplus huts to the American public, many of which remain standing today to give testimony to the longevity of steel buildings. After the war, many of these were used as postwar housing. The public found unique uses for them as well. In the 1950’s the Bradley brothers in Nashville, Tennessee, bought a Quonset hut which became the legendary Columbia Records Studio B and the cornerstone of Music Row. Today, you can find these relics in active duty around the country as outbuildings, in museums, and some of them have even been outfitted for commercial uses as restaurants like Charlie Parker’s Diner in Springfield, Illinois.
Modern Military Use of Structural Steel Buildings
While steel has a long history with the military, it is hardly a material of a bygone era. Today’s steel products are more durable and versatile than ever. When Phoenix area Luke Air Force Base needed to add a new building to their sprawling complex, they relied on Image Building Systems to deliver. Image Building Systems designed and built a pre-engineered steel building that far surpasses the Quonset huts of military history. The building which incorporated 2.5″ insulated panels is fully insulated against the scorching Arizona sun. The building’s standing seam metal roof blends in with similar buildings on-site and the attractive stucco walls add to the building’s aesthetics.
Modern structural steel buildings don’t have to be bland or boring. With the correct design process, steel buildings can deliver the durability and reliability that steel is famous for while easily fitting into the existing architectural style of the surrounding community.