The History of Lawn Care

Overview

Launde, a Middle English word, originally referred to a meadow or clearing in the woods but later meant stretches of land cultivated to resemble glades. Medieval Britons and French maintained clear, grassy areas around their castles as a defensive measure against the possibility of being surrounded by hostile forces. Wealthy British and French classes in the renaissance planted thyme or chamomile around their estates, not grass. These early lawns were cleared by peasants bearing scythes or by sheep.

Colonial Lawns

Only the upper classes living in rural North America could afford to have a manicured lawn. Hired help trimmed lawns with scythes. Both Presidents Washington and Jefferson used sheep to trim the lawns on their estates at Mt. Vernon and Monticello. Woodrow Wilson had sheep keep the grass down on the White House lawn; he donated the wool to help with a shortage of wool occasioned by World War I.

Golf Courses and Lawns

The technology and practice of maintaining lawns followed the evolution of golf in the United States. Golf and lawn bowling, both dependent on trimmed grass, were developed in Scotland, a country of open grasslands. Scottish immigrants brought both games with them and soon grew and maintained turf for playing areas. Scottish immigrants established bowling greens in both Boston and Virginia before 1650; they built golf courses in Montreal in 1873, Quebec in 1875 and New York in 1888. The U.S. Department Agriculture and the U.S. Golf Association began researching the best ways to grow and maintain grass between 1910 and 1924. The first of their experimental turf farms is said to have been located where the Pentagon sits today.

First City Lawns

From golf courses and bowling greens, grass turf became popular in parks and playgrounds in the middle of the 19th century before they moved to urban and suburban residential lawns. This is when push lawn mowers made their appearance.

Lawn Mowers

Edwin Budding invented the lawn mower in 1830. Elwood McGuire of Richmond, Indiana, designed the basic push mower with a reel in 1870. By 1885, lawn mowers were considered a residential necessity, and the United States was exporting 50,000 push lawn mowers a year. Col. Edwin George introduced the first mower powered by gasoline in 1919. The rotary lawn mower did not appear until the 1950s.

Irrigation

In the mid-19th century, fairways were irrigated from water in carts drawn by mules. A lawn sprinkler was awarded an American patent in the early 1870s. By the turn of the century, sprinklers, hoses and hose reels were widely advertised for the homeowners with lawns. The price and technology of underground sprinklers with automatic timers spread from golf courses to residential lawns in the 1970s. Plastic became widely available after World War II. This led to micro-tubing and drip emitters for lawns in the 1960s. In the 1970s and 1980s, automatic timers were added to drip irrigation systems for residential lawns.

Fertilizers and Pesticides

Specially blended high-nitrogen lawn fertilizers and broadleaf weed herbicides appeared in the 1950s. Until the early 1950s, clover that takes nitrogen from the air and deposits it in the soil for use by grass was an accepted part of lawns. When an herbicide killed clover off along with dandelions, it became regarded as a weed.

Keywords: lawn care history, lawn care evolution, lawn maintenance history

About this Author

Richard Hoyt, the author of 26 mysteries, thrillers and other novels, is a former reporter for Honolulu dailies and writer for "Newsweek" magazine. He taught nonfiction writing and journalism at the university level for 10 years. He holds a Ph.D. in American studies.