William J. Levitt

housing developer
Born: 2/11/1907
Birthplace: New York City

Levitt formed a construction company in 1929 with his brother, who focused on the architectural details, and his father, who managed the landscaping. They built mass-produced tract housing first for the U.S. Navy, then for servicemen returning from World War II. The uniform look and feel allowed the firm to make decent, single-family homes affordable, but was largely criticised for the identical look of the communities they built. The first such Levittown was built in Long Island, New York and comprised 17,500 homes; subsequent developments in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and Florida followed. The homogenous nature of the homes extended to Levitt's views of their ideal buyers, as well, leading to courtroom battles over the company's refusal to sell to blacks (upheld by the Pennsylvania cours in 1955). He sold the firm to International Telephone and Telegraph in 1968, but lost much of his wealth in ventures that turned sour in the 1970s and '80s.

Died: 1/28/1994

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