A History of Settling for Drywall

I have often wondered what chain of events was set in place that shifted the North American building industry away from traditional plaster construction to that of drywall. After a frantic search of the Internet for answers, I have finally satisfied my curiosity.
 
Drywall was invented by the U.S Gypsum Company (USG) in 1916 and was first sold in small tiles that were then altered to become multi-layer gypsum and paper sheets. Less than a decade later, they took on the form that we are familiar with today – a single layer of compressed gypsum sandwiched between two sheets of heavy paper.
 
While drywall’s evolution was a quick one, builders on the other hand were not as quick to use this relatively new material in any substantial quantity. Why is that you ask? Drywall was regarded as a cheap fix, without any of the skill or art associated with making and applying plaster. Homeowners did not want to live in a home that was shoddily constructed so they kept with the tradition and expense of plaster walls.
 
In a desperate attempt to change their bad reputation, U.S Gypsum changed their brand name to “Sheetrock”, which proved ineffective as builders and homeowners paid no attention. So what changed you ask? What altered the entire building industry and caused builders and homeowners to settle for this material that they previously viewed as “cheap” and “shoddy”?
 
The Second World War. When the United States became involved in World War II the country’s labour force became focused on war manufacturing and many labourers were sent overseas to fight, thus there was a high demand for quick, easy and inexpensive building materials to offset the labour shortage and war costs. A lucky brake for U.S Gypsum…a not so lucky turn of events for the future of the North American building industry.
 
Plastering could not remain a viable option due to the immense labour shortage, so people were forced to use drywall instead. Homes and factories could be constructed in a fraction of the time with a fraction of the labour and drywall’s reputation was becoming less tarnished. While still cheap, its efficiency was viewed as patriotic because civilians could spend more time and money supporting the war.
 
When the war ended in 1945, drywall had become the norm. During the post-war building (and baby) boom, builders had grown accustomed to the cheap and cheerful method of building and abandoned plaster for drywall which continues to be the chosen method of building in North America today.
 
All in all, there were many factors that lead to a shift to drywall in the building industry. Time and events run their course and influence every aspect of our lives and the products and materials that we are surrounded by. In my opinion, it’s an unfortunate reality that builders did not return to the building method of lath and plaster with its many benefits and this is why we are doing what we are doing at the Lime Plaster Co. Attempting to promote the benefits of this lost trade and challenge the norm in the building industry with traditional materials and mindset.
 
The benefits of lath and plaster are wide—and there will be posts to come, which will expand on the many benefits of our trade but for now (for you homeowners with lath and plaster walls or those in search of a historic home) here are some of the benefits of a lath and plaster construction.
 
Some (of the many) Benefits of Plaster Walls:
1. Better sound dampening.
2. Plaster increases the historical authenticity and therefore resale value of historic homes.
3. A Wood lath system strengthens the wall by adding additional racking resistance.
4. It is 'greener' and cheaper to retain existing elements in your home!
5. It's Healthier! The traditional materials (Lime, Sand, etc.) are VOC-Free and natural materials that can be locally sourced (reducing the carbon footprint of your build).
6. Due to its high pH value of around 12, the Lime binder in historic plasters prevents mold growth and so was favoured for sanitary applications like hospitals. 
WHAT'S IN A NAME? The name “drywall” refers to the fact that walls made of the material are installed without the use of water. The word “gypsum” comes from the Latin term “gypsos,” meaning “plaster.”