As we reflect on a successful 2014 (we hope you had a great one too), we thought it would be interesting to also look back on the origins of artificial grass, and it goes further back than we’d imagined.
Recent news features on BBC radio have trumpeted the great look and low maintenance of contemporary artificial lawns. Compared to earlier incarnations, where the artificial quality of the surface was physically obvious (leading to the nickname ‘plastic pitch’), modern surfaces are so realistic so as to be inseparable from the real thing.
However, if trace the story back to those very beginnings, the genesis of this manmade green grass, what do we actually know of its history? Well perhaps not surprisingly, our story starts in over the pond in the USA. And we find its origins not in a domestic setting, but in sports.
Specifically we find ourselves at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. This was a futuristic looking indoor baseball stadium when it was constructed in the mid 1960s, but nevertheless, the natural surface failed. The innovative management of the stadium decided, instead, to replace the grass with something synthetic. They chose something called AstroTurf, in the process heralding the arrival of artificial surfaces.
Bosses quickly found other benefits beyond maintenance and durability… it transpired that the surface was also better for gameplay. The ball travelled faster and bounced higher, and truer than it would do suffering the vagaries of natural turf. This aided accuracy and therefore the skill of the very best players, and a better experience for the spectators.
Astroturf takes America by storm
At first, only part of the infield of the Astrodome was turfed with artificial grass, as there was so little of it available. However, the experiment was so successful that the rest of the outfield soon followed. The unqualified success of that pioneering experiment in Houston did not go unnoticed and in the following decade the use of artificial surfaces spread across North America, as though these modern plastic fibres had somehow managed to self-seed.
The first stadia to make the switch included Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati; Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh and the Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. But many more soon followed and artificial grass certainly came into its own in Canada, where the inclement weather made the use of artificial grass a no-brainer. There are eight stadia in the Canadian Football League, for instance. All now use artificial surfaces.
Throughout the 1970s artificial grass took over more and more stadia across the continent – initially indoor pitches, where the lack of sunlight might in any case preclude natural lawns – but once the quality had improved, outdoor arenas as well. Groundsmen found the surface offered huge benefits in terms of care, maintenance and also for the way they saved water. In certain states within America, that can also be a very real boon.
So, an experiment in sports stadia technology in North America proves a resounding success. What next? Well, such was the reputation for artificial grass that it firstly made a move across a pond to the UK, and then a further move from a sports use to a domestic one. From the 1990s artificial grass has spread across the UK, improving the look of both commercial landscapes, as well as our own back gardens.
The reason for this success is very simple. Artificial lawns are almost maintenance free – no mowing, no trimming, little weeding. And now the aesthetic appearance has improved, it also looks as good as the real thing… all year round. Perfect for those moments when the grandkids want to pitch a few balls.
Houston did indeed have a problem. And artificial grass was the solution!