The octagon building can be found in use throughout history. One of the earliest known octagonal structures is the Tower of Winds, 100-50 B.C., in Athens, Greece. At 42 feet high by 26 feet in diameter, this marble octagonal building, still standing, was constructed for the purpose of measuring time. The main period of construction of octagon houses in the United States occurred in the 1850s and 1860s. These buildings could be found in more than twenty states and Canada with the largest numbers being in New York State. The Dutch settlers that came to New York were familiar with this type of structure, having seen many octagonal churches in use in Holland. Subsequently, several small octagonal churches were built in New York and New Jersey in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. In 1854, Orson Fowler published "A Home for All," expounding upon the virtues of the octagon house with regard to the ease and expense of construction, as well as the resultant safety in utilization of specific building materials and increased efficiency of usable space and temperature regulation. This, coupled with changing styles of home construction in form and technique, led to a surge of production of eight-sided homes in the United States at that time.
Octagon houses are characterized by an octagonal (eight-sided) plan, and often feature a flat roof and a veranda all round. Their unusual shape and appearance, quite different from the ornate pitched-roof houses typical of the period, can generally be traced to the influence of one man, amateur architect and lifestyle pundit Orson Squire Fowler. Although there are other octagonal houses worldwide, the term octagon house usually refers specifically to octagonal houses built in North America during this period, and up to the early 1900s.