Unicel Prefab Freight Cars

Loading slides...
previous next
  • Unicel promotional mat'l on development of new glue technologies Unicel promotional mat’l on development of new glue technologies
  • Unicel freight car (HB photo) Unicel freight car (HB photo)
  • Unicel Freight Car at the Factory. Unicel Freight Car at the Factory.
  • View of specially engineered coupling device for Unicel Freight Cars. View of specially engineered coupling device for Unicel Freight Cars.
  • View of Unicel Freight Car. (HB photo, n.d.) View of Unicel Freight Car. (HB photo, n.d.)
  • Unicel Walk-through display (no credit? Hedrich-Blessing?) Unicel Walk-through display (no credit? Hedrich-Blessing?)

There was a terrible shortage of steel at that time, right after the war, and the Pressed Steel Car Company asked me if I could design a version of our prefabricated plywood panels.- Oral History

Unicel is another of  Goldberg's industrial design proiects: the design was for a plywood prefabricated  boxcar. Also related to this are the Uni-shelter prfabricated housing modules and the Snyder residence.

Because of a steel shortage following WWII, the challenge was to design a rail car that did not rely on steel. The plywood boxcar built on earlier exploration in panel construction in the Standard Houses, and when built as a "tube" had the strength of a steel boxcar but was built mostly of wood. Goldberg's monolithic tube-like structure of stressed skin-plywood, dubbed "Unicel" for unit-cellular, made by placing layers of strong plywood grain against grain and laminating them with special plastics under heat. Constructed as a single unit, it was quite strong.The design was patented in both the US and in Canada.

Introduction of the Unicel Prefab Freight Car was done with much fanfare with unveilings at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago and at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. The display booth for the Unicel, also designed by Goldberg, featured a photomontage of the boxcar in use. The highlight of the display however, was a full-size cross section through the boxcar that viewers could walk into. He would later use this idea to promote the apartments in Marina City.

Initially, the innovative boxcar was well received by the American Railroad Association, which approved an order for 500 cars. According to Goldberg, the order was later rejected by the ARA Executive Committee under pressure from the steel industry. As a result Unicel never entered mass production. However, Goldberg adapted the idea for the Unishelter Houses.