The front lawn is as much a fixture of modern America as the fourth of July, adorning homes across the nation and providing each homeowner the larger spaces available to those residing outside of urbanized areas. Lawns serve as a place to gather, to put love and maintenance, to enjoy some open space, and, of course, to show off. The tradition of maintaining good looking lawns dates back to the country’s English roots.
It was the English aristocracy that first had lawns installed on the grounds of their manor homes. The lawn, during the late 17th and 18th centuries, was a rare privilege. Because there was no machine specifically for the cutting of grass, only those who had the means to hire enough staff to maintain a lawn with a scythe and shears had lawns. Having a nicely maintained lawn was, among many others, an important status symbol for the English aristocracy.
However, during the middle 1800s, the lawnmower was invented. The original lawnmower was heavy, built out of cast iron it was very difficult to maneuver and also tended to leave the blades spinning uselessly above the grass it should have been cutting. Within about 10 years though, a more streamlined steel-framed device had been invented – a development that coincided with the end of the American civil war.
As people returned to their lives and their homes, the wealthy started to leave the cities and move to suburbs. These individuals and families, members of the unofficial American ‘aristocracy,’ now had the opportunity to create spaces that showed status, but also showed a vision of an American future where all people could strive for and actually have their own lawn in the suburbs.
With the advent of the 40 hour work week in 1938, and thanks to the labor movement’s influence on upward trending wages, more people were joining the new ‘middle class.’ They were purchasing homes that included a lawn, because they now how the time and money to maintain it. During the second world war, Americans were encouraged to keep up their lawns as a show of strength, moral character and to help relieve of the stress of wartime.
Today, some municipalities and home owners associations have standards on how well-maintained a yard must be to keep up high standards and property values. While other features are being adopted as well when it comes to landscaping today, the lawn serves as the foundation for the appearance of many homes and communities.
While, at its most basic, the lawn is of course just grass, the lawn is also a symbol of the middle class in America. Beyond all else, the well-maintained lawn demonstrated upward mobility, the hope for a better future and advantages Americans had because of the large spaces available to suburbanites. Today, many who own homes still take great pride in keeping their lawns and landscaping in top shape (some even go for mower-bots like the one at the right here). It doesn’t just look nice, frankly, it’s just the American way.