Pulp Terms: The Big House
“Big House” – A term used to refer to a prison.
What does the term “Big House” mean?
The term “Big House” is often used to refer to a large, impressive residence, typically one that is owned by a wealthy or prominent individual or family. It can also refer to a prison or a detention center.
Why is a prison called the Big House?
Prison, also known as “the Big House,” is so named because it is typically a large, imposing building that serves as a place of detention for convicted criminals. The name “Big House” emphasizes the prison’s imposing size. in the past, many prisons were in fact large houses, castles or palaces, which were converted into prisons. This also may have contributed to the term.
When was the term, the Big House, first used to describe prisons?
The exact origin of the phrase “Big House” is not clear, but it has been used for over a century. The earliest recorded use of the phrase “Big House” in reference to a prison is from an 1891 newspaper article from Ohio . However, it’s possible it was used earlier, as it’s a colloquial term.
The term “Big House” has been used in a number of works of fiction
One well-known example is the novel “The Big House” by George Allan England, published in 1930. The story is set in a prison and describes the brutal conditions and corrupt practices that were common in American prisons at the time.
Another notable example is the film “The Big House” (1930), directed by George W. Hill. It tells the story of a prison riot and the harsh realities of life behind bars.
The term is used in Jack London’s “The Star Rover” (1915) where the protagonist is sent to “the Big House” (San Quentin State Prison) and tells his story through the memories of his past lives.
The term “Big House” was commonly used in pulp fiction of the early 20th century.
It was used as the title of “The Big House” series by W. T. Ballard, published in the 1930s. The series follows the adventures of a prison warden and his staff as they contend with dangerous inmates and corrupt officials.
Another pulp example is the “Convict Stories” series by Harold de Polo. The series tells the story of convicts, their experiences and the harsh realities of prison life.
The term was also used in other pulp fiction works, such as “The Big House” by Fred MacIsaac, and “The Big House” by John D. Swain.