LeTourneau University celebrated R.G. LeTourneau’s 125th birthday on November 30, 2013. To celebrate, the University invited students and faculty to “see through the eyes of R.G. LeTourneau.” To see through his eyes, the University sent facsimiles of R.G.’s glasses to those interested so they could be photographed in them and share their perspective on R.G. (click on image to enlarge)
I have been researching R.G. LeTourneau from a different perspective than most. LeTourneau was known for his strong religious convictions as well as his innovative earthmoving machines and there are many writings on his accomplishments regarding these two motivating factors in his life.
My research started when I began researching the prefabricated systems of architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller and Walter Gropius. I discovered that I lived in a prefabricated house from around 1967-1971. My father was a welder who worked at the Vicksburg, Mississippi Plant and we lived in one of “the little concrete houses.” I thought they were constructed of concrete masonry units and laid block by block, but my father informed me that they were laid by a machine in a single pour of concrete and the whole community was established very rapidly around 1945 with a machine called the Tournalayer. After much research and visiting the LeTourneau archives in Longview, Texas for three days in 2010, I discovered the many housing systems of LeTourneau.
While researching LeTourneau, I have read his many biographies and autobiographies and have found that the houses, as artifacts, were direct products of his religious and mechanical passions. The houses and communities that R.G. created (directly and indirectly) continue to have affects on future generations of people in positive ways. R.G. was famous for his ‘Rube Goldberg-like” machines and his passion for the word of God.
While R.G. is not well-known for his prefabricated buildings, there is still much to be learned from the systems, houses, and communities for which he created. The all-steel houses and the Tournalayer house system would not bring a great profit, but they do offer much insight into the thinking processes in the mid-1940s.
As LeTourneau wrote about his (new in 1937) all-steel house system, he made the following observations.
“Between heavy grading equipment and houses there is no very definite connection, but the continuing success and the reputation of R. G. LeTourneau, Inc., in the former field is a guarantee of equal reliability in the latter. In house building we work mainly with the same materials and tools as in grading equipment manufacture, employ the same sound structural principles, design as painstakingly, and as intelligently supervise workmanship. Our reputation for leadership, for reliability, for service must be maintained in this new department to support our reputation in the older one.” – R.G. LeTourneau