Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, February 11, 2021

The Story of the Nissen Hut

Hospital at St. Omer Incorporating Nissen Huts

Britain's "New Army" would need  a massive number of buildings for barracks, warehousing, and offices  that could be built quickly. An American-born  Canadian officer serving in the Royal Engineers found the solution. In April 1916, Lt. Col. Peter Nissen of 29 Company, RE, came up with the idea of a prefabricated steel structure made from a half-cylindrical skin of  corrugated steel. The cross-section was not precisely semi-circular, as the bottom of the hut curved in slightly.

Lt. Col. Peter Nissen on Left Before One of His Huts

Two factors influenced the design of the hut. First, the building had to be economical in its use of materials, especially considering wartime shortages of building supplies. Second, the un-assembled building had to be portable. This was particularly important in view of the wartime shortages of shipping space. This led to a simple form that was prefabricated for ease of erection and removal. Eventually, Nissen huts could be constructed in any of three widths: 16, 24, or 30 feet wide, and any length, in multiples of 6 ft. The Nissen hut could be packed in a standard Army wagon and erected by six men in four hours. The world record for erection was one hour 27 minutes.   


There were some shortcomings with  the original  designs. The early huts had dirt floors, no electricity, no insulation, and had only a potbelly stove for heating. These problems were addressed in later upgrades. According to some sources, over 100,000 Nissen huts were built in World War I. (I'm suspicious this figure may include those of improved design that were built for the Second World War.)

The U.S. Purchased Nissen Huts When It Entered the War;
Camouflaged Huts at Ourches Airfield

The U.S.-made Quonset hut of the World War II, of course, was inspired by the Nissesn Hut. In the spring of 1941 the U.S. Navy established a Temporary Advance Facilities compound at West Davisville, Rhode Island. It was here that the design and manufacturing concepts for prefabricated Quonset huts was developed by a team from the George A. Fuller Co of New York, led by engineer Peter Dejongh and architect Otto Brandenberger. Before war's end, 153,200 Quonset huts had been produced. Tens of thousands of surplus units were sold after the war for civilian  use. They can still be spotted across America.

Nissen Huts Utilized by the U.S.
North Russia Transportation Corps
(Brooke Anderson Collection)

Sources:  Military Wiki; "Nissen and Quonset Huts" by J. David Rogers, Wiki Commons


  1. Have a bulldozer cut a trench say 8 feet down; put one of these babies in, cover it with dirt and voila you have a fall out shelter. Contemporarily may be of use to escape the current political environment.

  2. Good backgrounder.
    I am curious about how other nations came up with housing.

  3. At Ft. Leonard Wood in 1967 there was at least one building that was made of the wood from torn-apart artillery shell crates. As I recall it was at the demolition range. Maybe an experiment?

    1. Those wooden crates that ammo was shipped in was the primary bunker building material in the Nam. Fill them with dirt; they stacked very nicely; they even came with some thick mill polyethylene sheets that were great for waterproofing. Put some heavy steel landing strip plates on the top for the roof with the polyethylene sheets, then a layer of sandbags all around and the roof creating a very secure bunker.