BY THE MID-TWENTIETH CENTURY, millions of Americans were living and working high in the air. They spent whole days and nights in towers of steel and glass, and the skyscraper became a symbol of the American city. Just as nineteenth-century boosters had boasted of their hotels, their Palaces of the Public, so twentieth-century boosters boasted of their towers. Both were as much a product of hope and aspiration as of necessity. The towering skyscraper expressed a new, latter-day American boosterism, a determination to compete with Nature herself, to win over the limitations of matter and space and seasons.
The grandest went up in the largest, most congested cities. New York City’s Woolworth Building (1913) and her Empire State Building (1931), and Chicago’s Tribune Tower (1925), and many others responded to the real or imagined needs of the great metropolis. But in smaller cities, too, all over the nation skyscrapers shot up. For the American skyscraper was not simply a reflex response to economic need or an answer to the scarcity of land. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, for example, and in other cities of the West, mini-skyscrapers rose in the midst of endless acres of uninhabited prairie.
As Old World cities grew they had spread out. The most populous cities were inevitably the most extensive. Rome was spread over seven hills, and before the middle of the twentieth century, Greater London covered nearly 700 square miles. In European cities the tallest buildings, except for monuments, exposition towers, and occasional tours de force like the Eiffel Tower, reached up only five or six stories.
The tall structures that Americans built were not mere Eiffel Towers. They were buildings to work in and live in, for Americans had developed new ways of indoor living, ways of homogenizing space and the seasons. Americans could cease to be earthbound because they were no longer bound to the earth for their drinking water and washing water, for disposing of human wastes, for their means of keeping warm and cool, for their ways to communicate with neighbors. The skyscraper was the climactic symbol of man’s ability to rise above particular places and times to satisfy his needs, to keep himself comfortable and at work, making experience for all Americans, wherever they lived, more alike.
THE FIRST LARGE American community water supplies were not motivated by the desire for household convenience, but rather for a variety of public purposes—more and better drinking water, water to flush the streets and to fight fires. The first sizable municipal waterworks in the United States, which brought the waters of the Schuylkill to Philadelphia in 1801, was a response to the city’s recent yellow-fever epidemics that had decimated the population, forcing thousands to flee to the countryside. It was believed that disease could be prevented by flushing the streets daily, and especially in hot weather. The designer of the waterworks, the eminent Benjamin H. Latrobe (whom Jefferson appointed as the first surveyor of United States public buildings, and who was to build the first section of the Capitol), had encountered an assortment of fears and prejudices. Latrobe’s plan for the waterworks required the use of steam engines at the pumping stations in the heart of the city. Philadelphians, who had heard about the explosions of these new-fangled engines on Western river boats, imagined that the pumping stations would bring the perils of boiling water and steam into their own neighborhoods. Latrobe finally carried the day with his declaration that “a steam engine is, at present, as tame and innocent as a clock,” and his scheme was executed at a cost of about a quarter of a million dollars.
But a full year afterward Philadelphia, which with its population of 70,000 was then the largest city in the United States, had received an annual revenue of only $537 from a total of 154 water takers. A decade later, when the population of Philadelphia had reached 90–000, the number of water takers had risen to 2,127. The idea that running water was a household necessity was at least a half-century in the future. City dwellers could still gather what water they needed free of charge from pumps or running streams. “It will be some time,” one Philadelphian predicted, “before the citizens will be reconciled to buy their water.” Paying for water to drink appeared almost as absurd as paying for air to breathe. But even that fantastic necessity seemed in the offing by the late twentieth century.
The earliest American community water supplies were brought by wooden conduits to a town or to a group of houses. During the first half of the nineteenth century such water suppliers were usually private companies authorized by state legislatures and municipal governing bodies and run for profit. Within three decades after the opening of the Philadelphia municipal waterworks in 1801, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Richmond, and St. Louis took up the idea.
In New York it took failure by the private Manhattan Company, dominated by Aaron Burr, and a half-century of wrangling to bring the city round to providing a public water supply. Cholera epidemics in 1832 and 1834 and a scourge of fires in 1834 estimated to cost the city $1.5 million pushed the city into action. “We are at present,” a New Yorker observed, “supplied with spring water carted round in carts and brought from the upper parts and suburbs of the city. This water, although far from good, is much better than that obtained from wells in the city; for this we pay at the rate of two cents per pail, three pails per day is but a moderate quantity for a family, and three pails per day costs twenty dollars per annum.” City dwellers commonly spiked their unpalatable water with spirits and incidentally added the temperance argument to all the others. “Water is one of the elements,” a New Yorker found it necessary to argue, “full as necessary to existence as light and air, and its supply, therefore, ought never to be made a subject of trade or speculation.” The fire of December 17, 1835, the worst in the city’s history (inhabitants compared it to the conflagration of Moscow) dramatized the need.
The great Croton Aqueduct brought water thirty miles south from a reservoir dammed up from the Croton River, and on October 14, 1842, began pouring millions of gallons into New York City. “Nothing is talked of or thought of in New York but Croton water,” Philip Hone noted in his diary; “fountains, acqueducts, hydrants, and hose attract our attention and impede our progress through the streets. Political spouting has given place to water spouts, and the free current of water has diverted the attention of the people from the vexed questions of the confused state of the national currency.” But some New Yorkers, complaining that the water was “all full of tadpoles and animalculae,” were “in dreadful apprehensions of breeding bullfrogs inwardly.”
The most powerful argument for improved municipal water supplies came from London, when an English physician, John Snow, showed that the victims of that city’s cholera epidemic of 1849 had all drunk water from a certain Broad Street pump. Snow proved that bad water was not simply water that did not sparkle and had an unpleasant odor, but it contained specific agents which came from feces. Even after proof that specific diseases could be traced to specific impurities in water, purifying systems came only slowly to American cities.
The notable American contribution was made by James P. Kirkwood, who had been sent to Europe by the city of St. Louis to study the purification of river water. After reading Kirkwood’s report, St. Louis city officials decided not to try to filter the muddy Mississippi. But the city of Poughkeepsie then commissioned Kirkwood to build a plant to filter waters of the Hudson. It was the first large-scale water filtration plant in the United States, and became a model for the world. One of the main problems in sand-filtration plants was the accumulation of scum and impurities which were difficult to remove from the sand-filtration beds. Kirkwood’s ingeniously simple proposal was that instead of scraping off the impurities from the sand, the flow of water be reversed through the filter to backwash the impurities.
In one American city after another, water began to flow in seemingly endless streams. By mid-century, running water was commonly found in upper-middle-class households in large cities. In 1860, every one of the nation’s sixteen largest cities (each with a population of at least 50,000) had some sort of waterworks. All but four (New Orleans, Buffalo, San Francisco, Providence) of these were municipally owned, and many smaller cities also commonly had waterworks.
Even while running water in the household was still an upper-middle-class luxury, those Americans who could afford it were already treating the water supply as if it were inexhaustible. Planners had made the mistake of basing their predictions on the early Philadelphia experience. The Bostonians who argued against the expense of the Cochituate Aqueduct (completed in 1848) had said that it was ridiculous to imagine that the city would ever consume 7.5 million gallons a day. Yet within five years, the city’s average daily consumption exceeded 8.5 million gallons. What ran up the consumption was not that there were too many families connected to the system, but that, as the Boston Water Board estimated, two thirds of the water was being wasted. In livery stables, in primitive water closets and urinals, water was left running constantly. In cold weather, when householders feared that their pipes might freeze, they kept their faucets wide open all night. During a cold spell in January 1854, daily consumption rose to 14 million gallons, the reservoirs were nearly dry, and houses in the higher parts of the city were left without water. Inspectors were sent about the city at night listening for the sound of running water so they could warn offenders that their supply might be cut off. In 1860 the Water Board complained that Boston’s average of 97 gallons daily for each inhabitant was “without parallel in the civilized world,” and expressed fear that the city soon would be unable to supply the citizens’ demands.
These municipal waterworks, like other new resources of flow technology, were not merely new means to supply one of man’s ancient necessities. They became themselves channels which brought into being inexhaustible new demands. Even before all Americans had become accustomed to the luxury of running water, the municipal waterworks had become sources of new scarcities. The story of running water would, of course, be paralleled a half-century later by the story of running electricity.
Running water made possible a host of new uses for water, and the spread of many older uses to more and more Americans. The New York water commissioners warned New Yorkers only two years after the Croton Aqueduct went into operation that they had not intended to supply fountains in all the city’s parks, nor to amuse all the city’s boys with water flowing from fire hydrants. At first it was generally assumed that baths would continue to be primarily a public facility. In 1849, when Philadelphia already had 15,000 houses with running water, only about 3,500 had private baths. In New York the price of general admission to a public bath was three cents, or six cents if you wanted to bathe privately in a separate room.
In other parts of the world, too, a household bathroom was still a luxury. But in the United States within a half-century it would begin to be a middle-class necessity. The nation which was world headquarters for the democratization of comfort was naturally enough the home of the democratized bath. The progress of the American bathroom was rapid and spectacular. By 1922 Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt started every day in his “altogether royal bathroom of porcelain and glazed tile and metal sleek as silver.”
IN THE OLDER WORLD, the public facilities tended to copy the private. Inns were shaped like large private residences, town halls were fashioned after the palatial dwellings of rich citizens. But the urban communities which sprang up in the United States in the nineteenth century were bristling with newcomers, while there were still few rich men and, of course, no ancient palaces. Here public buildings and public facilities made their own style, which gradually influenced the way everyone lived. The large display windows to show off the wares of new-style department stores eventually were adopted as “picture windows” in apartment buildings and in private households. The history of running water and bathrooms followed a similar pattern.
The luxurious American hotels, the Palaces of the Public, were among the first and most influential American buildings to bring running water indoors. Even before Boston had installed a municipal waterworks, the Tremont House, completed in 1829, had its own water system to feed its bathtubs and its battery of eight water closets on the ground floor. The rise of running water in America was literal as well as figurative. From the ground floor it rose gradually to the upper stories, where at first there were common bathroom facilities for the residents of each floor, and then it trickled out to each room. Generally, running water was brought first to the kitchen sink, then to the wash basin, and finally to the bathtub. But as late as 1869, Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s American Woman’s Home, a popular guide to home planning, showed a kitchen sink with water drawn from a hand pump.
In the United States, hotels continued to set the pace. As early as 1853, the luxurious Mount Vernon Hotel at Cape May, New Jersey, impressed Americans and amazed travelers from Britain by equipping every room not only with running water but also with a bathtub. By 1877, one medium-priced Boston hotel offered in each of its rooms a wash basin with running hot and cold water. But it was the early twentieth century before the private bathroom became normal for every room in better American hotels. When the enterprising Ellsworth M. Statler built his new hotel in Buffalo in 1908, his advertising slogan was “A room with a bath for a dollar and a half.”
RUNNING WATER WAS, first of all, a labor-saving device. In earlier times, even if there was a pump indoors at the kitchen sink, it still required muscle power to make the water flow; the wash basin or the bathtub required water to be carried by hand. When English travelers first saw plumbing fixtures in American hotels and households, they described them as simply another American response to the scarcity of menial labor. And the high cost of labor in the United States did help explain why running water and indoor plumbing so early became commonplace here.
Before there were running water and municipal sewers, the wash basin or the bathtub was moved about to wherever it was needed or wherever at the time the water could be most conveniently carried to them. There was no such thing as a “bathroom,” since there was no functional reason why the bathtub and washstand should be kept in one place.
Water systems had begun as private enterprises, selling people the water they needed, but sewage-disposal systems could not start that way. This helps explain why they were so slow in coming. Running water could not become a common convenience until there were municipal systems of sewage disposal. In 1850 Lemuel Shattuck, the versatile New Englander whom we have already met as De Bow’s collaborator in the census of 1850 and as a founder of American vital statistics, explained the urgent need for city sewage-disposal systems in his pioneer Report of the Sanitary Commission of Massachusetts. In 1860, when there were 136 city water systems in the United States, there were still only ten municipal systems for disposing of sewage. By 1880 there were more than two hundred. But at that time a sewage “system” was simply an arrangement for collecting and pouring unprocessed city sewage into nearby lakes or streams. The growth of city water systems in turn increased the urgency of the need for better systems of sewage disposal, since cities now commonly found themselves drawing their water supplies from the very streams they were polluting. Massachusetts kept the lead, by setting up a State Board of Health in 1869, and by pioneering in studies of sewage disposal at the Lawrence Experiment Station. But this was considered a nasty subject, embarrassing to discuss in mixed company. And it was only against considerable public resistance that the perils of human sewage, however diluted, for community water supplies were gradually demonstrated. At the Lawrence Station, Hiram F. Mills developed a system of slow sand filtration for sewage, contradicting the popular notions of the day that rapid flow was what purified streams, and he thus helped reduce by 80 percent the Massachusetts death rate from typhoid.
As sewage systems matched water systems, there grew up a large new market for plumbing fixtures. The “room with a private bath” in American hotels and motels, and the multiplying baths in households, required better bathtubs, easier to clean and maintain. The first two decades of the twentieth century saw a sudden increase in the production of American enamelware. In the previous decades many materials had been tried: wooden boxes lined with sheet lead or zinc or copper; cast iron, plain, painted or galvanized; sheet steel; sheet copper; porcelain crockery; and even aluminum. But all these were either too fragile, too cold to the touch, or too expensive. A durable cast-iron enameled tub had been made as early as 1870, when a manufacturer was turning out one tub per day. Until 1900, sanitary fixtures were still hand-fashioned, but production had risen to ten bathtubs per worker per day. A few cast-iron enameled tubs were used in private Pullmans before 1900. Then by 1920, the one-piece, double-shelled enameled tub, destined to remain standard for a half-century, was being machine-made and mass-produced. The castings were serially poured, cooled, and scoured, and little skill was required of the workers. Between 1915 and 1921 the annual production of enameled sanitary fixtures (wash basins, bathtubs, etc.) doubled, and then doubled again by 1925, to reach over five million pieces.
The other essential element in the American bathroom, apart from the wash basin, was of course the water closet, or flush toilet. One reason for the slow introduction of indoor water closets for the disposal of human waste was that unlike the running-water wash basin or bathtub, it was not so obviously a labor-saving device. Not until near the end of the nineteenth century was it widely believed that human waste was a dangerous source of disease infection and water pollution. Rural life and mores discouraged the making of machines to do what nature could do better. The earth was supposed to have remarkable absorbing and deodorizing powers, and the common way of disposing of human waste was on the surface of the ground. People retired to a nearby woods or to some other sheltered place; and they tried to prevent odors, which were generally thought to be the real source of infection, by carefully selecting a different place each time. In villages it was found desirable to establish special private places or “privies.” But privies were generally considered not so much sanitary devices as places of modest and dignified retirement. Even where there were privies, they were for use mainly by women and children, while the men still used the stable or the woods.
The first United States patents for water closets were issued in the 1830’s, but it was past mid-century, after the rise of water systems and sewage systems, that the water closet began to come into general use. In 1851, when President Millard Fillmore reputedly installed the first permanent bath and water closet in the White House, he was criticized for doing something that was “both unsanitary and undemocratic.” Even after there were city sewage systems, it was hard to persuade owners to go to the expense of installing plumbing and making sewer connections. Especially in the congested center of cities, where the problem of waste disposal was most pressing, it was often difficult to persuade landlords to use the sewage system. On sewered streets, thousands of persons were still using old privies and cesspools at the end of the nineteenth century.
Designing a satisfactory water closet was no easy matter, and it challenged the talents of plumbers, inventors, and hydraulic engineers. The problem was to design a bowl and apparatus that would be self-cleaning and not too noisy, and yet would not use excessive amounts of water. The modern wash-down closet that worked on the syphon principle, using suction to clean the bowl, had been invented in England by 1870 and was used by Americans who could afford it by the 1880’s and 90’s. The flush-valve toilet, which required less time between uses, was developed in the early twentieth century and long remained the only major improvement in toilet design. The water closet, like the bathtub, could be democratized only after the perfection of ways of mass-producing enamelware—plumbing fixtures of iron coated with enamel. By the opening of the twentieth century, American enamelware mass-produced for bathrooms had become good enough for European royalty, and the American product was installed in Buckingham Palace and in the private apartments of the king of Prussia. During the next decades, enamelware was displaced by porcelain.
In the United States a by-product of the widespread installation of water closets which required gallons of water at each flush, and another symptom of the democratization of everything, was the enormous increase in the public demand for water. As early as 1860, when it was found in Boston that the Parker House was using over 20,000 gallons a day and the Tremont House over 25,000 gallons, water meters were installed so that users could be charged for the actual amounts they consumed. Throughout the next century, novel household uses of water multiplied, with the washing machines, dishwashers, garbage-disposal machines, automatic lawn sprinklers, humidifiers, and air conditioners. Even before World War II, when the average per capita use of water in ten large European cities (including London, Paris, and Berlin) was 39 gallons per day, in ten large American cities (including New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, and Detroit), the per capita water use was four times as much, or 155 gallons per day. The new ways to use and to waste water seemed endless.
The new communal sources of water, and the communal outlets for sewage, became the unexpected causes for isolating individuals, incidentally changing social attitudes toward bodily functions. The old-fashioned privies, even in castles, were often designed so that their users could enjoy the company and conversation of fellow-users. The early American outhouses, too, commonly had more than one seat, to facilitate use by more than one person at a time. But the indoor toilet, partly because of its cost, was a loner. While in England, as Giedion has explained, the earliest bathrooms were large rooms, as spacious as the others in the house, in the United States the bathroom became a cell, distinguished by its compactness and insulation. This was a far cry from the bathing facilities of ancient Rome or Greece or modern Islam or Japan, where the common water source brought people together. And a far cry, too, from the sociability and gossip of the women at the well which had been proverbial ever since Rebecca’s day. For Americans, the democratization of the bath meant the private bath.
As these mechanical devices using communal resources—water, gas, and electricity—became common in American households, they became the central unit around which buildings were planned. And as the American housewife went from the coal stove to the control panels, the engineer began to take precedence over the architect.
THE SKYSCRAPER APARTMENT or office building could hardly have become a year-round dwelling without central heating. For the problems of constructing a chimney to each of hundreds of rooms and then hoisting fuel for individual fires might have made large, high buildings impossible. And in the United States central heating, too, spread from public buildings into private households: another by-product of a fluid new world, where facilities open to the public aimed to democratize luxury. The Palaces of the Public, the luxurious American hotels, had introduced Americans to central heating before the mid-nineteenth century. The early heating plants were hot-air systems fired by wood or coal, but before the end of the century the boilers used in steam engines were being adapted for heating. And the exhaust steam from factory engines was piped into systems that warmed factories, offices, and meeting rooms. The Chicago public schools installed a steam-heating system in 1870.
The “radiator” was an American development. And the use of the word for a fixture through which steam or hot water from a central-heating plant circulates in order to heat a room is an Americanism dating from this era. In 1874 an American, William Baldwin, devised an improved radiator consisting of short lengths of one-inch pipe screwed into a cast-iron base. The widespread introduction of central heating into American households did not come until after the mass production of cast-iron radiators was developed in the 1890’s. The American Society of Heating and Ventilating Engineers, founded in 1895, built laboratories at the land-grant University of Illinois, where pioneer experiments set the pace for the nation. By 1950, some sort of central-heating plant was found in half the nation’s homes, a 50 percent increase within the preceding decade. Home-heating plants were increasingly fired by fuel flowing from some central source: along with oil, the use of gas or electricity was skyrocketing. By 1960 most American homes were heated neither by coal nor by wood. New systems, including infrared radiant heating and heating by atomic power, were being tried. The latest step in the blurring of boundaries between indoors and outdoors was the increasing use of underpavement pipes to keep streets and sidewalks clear and dry in winter.
Some kind of heating was a simple necessity for living and working in most of the nation. At first air conditioning (cooling, humidifying, or dehumidifying) was a mere convenience. And just as it was far more difficult to devise a machine to keep food cold than to cook, so, too, it was far easier to devise systems for warming rooms than for cooling them. But by the 1970’s new styles of architecture with fixed windows and large panes of glass were beginning to take air conditioning for granted. Even before the Civil War, as we have seen, some American efforts had been made to devise a working system of artificial refrigeration. But these were mostly aimed at cooling the air of rooms to cure and prevent fevers.
An air-conditioning system feasible for general use would be a by-product of efforts to solve certain specific problems of industry. Textile manufacturers had found that to keep their fibers soft and stretchable, to prevent the broken ends that required costly stop-page of their machines, they had to control the moisture content of the yarns. A fiber with just the right percentage of moisture was strong and pliable, and to dampen the fiber properly was called “yarn conditioning.” In 1906, when an American textile engineer invented a system for accomplishing this by controlling the humidity in the air, he called it “air conditioning,” and the name stuck.
For air conditioning, unlike many other innovations in indoor living, the theoretical as well as the practical advances were made in the United States. The man who developed the theory, who devised the machinery, and then envisioned the human possibilities of air conditioning, was Willis H. Carrier. In 1902, just a few months after Carrier received his engineering degree from Cornell, he noticed that the plant in Brooklyn where the humorous magazine Judge was printed could not line up their paper properly during the summer. The magazine covers were printed in color, and as the humidity varied during the summer, the paper stretched and shrank so that the successive colors applied by the machines did not “register” precisely one on top of the other.
With a flash of insight and ingenuity that would make him the founder of a great new industry, Carrier focused on the crucial relations between temperature and humidity. And he devised a machine to control both temperature and humidity to solve the plant’s problem. In his “Rational Psychrometric Formulae; Their Relation to the Problems of Meteorology and of Air Conditioning,” a paper he read to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1911, he provided the theoretical basis for twentieth-century air conditioning. He then developed the devices needed to make air conditioning feasible in tall buildings and in individual residences. His new centrifugal compressor for refrigeration in 1923 reduced the number of moving parts, cut down noise and maintenance costs, provided a more compact machine, and finally extended the reach of air conditioning to the tallest skyscrapers. But as buildings grew larger, new problems appeared: it was impossible to provide enough ceiling space between the floors to accommodate all the ducts. Carrier solved this problem, too, by an ingenious new system of small high-velocity ducts which sped the air to room units which cooled or heated the air as required and diffused it around the room. For feasible home units the next requirement was a safe, noninflammable refrigerant, which the Du-Pont Company developed in 1931 in the form of “Freon 12.”
Chocolate factories, which formerly had to close down during hot, humid periods, now, when air-conditioned, could operate regardless of the weather. Bakeries and chewing-gum factories, tobacco factories and ceramic factories, printing plants and munitions factories—all of which had been menaced by changes in the weather—were now free to make their own weather and so keep their production lines moving. The New York Stock Exchange installed a rudimentary air-conditioning system in 1904, followed three years later by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. A theater in Montgomery, Alabama, installed a system in 1917. In 1922, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood installed a new-style system by which the conditioned air was poured in at the ceiling and the stale air was removed in ducts under the seats. Air-conditioned railroad cars came next. The comforts of the movie theater in the 1930’s awakened Americans to their “need” for air conditioning in their offices, factories, shops, and homes.
Once again machines and techniques were spreading from the public commercial world into the private personal world. Room air conditioners, produced in small quantities in the 1930’s, had become big business by the 1950’s. In the 1960’s more than three million such units were being produced annually, three-fourths for use in homes. By the mid-twentieth century, central residential air conditioning had become the industry’s biggest market, and before 1970, $1 billion worth of central residential air conditioning was being installed every year. Even in automobiles, air conditioning was beginning to become standard equipment.
“Every day a good day” had been Carrier’s motto in 1919 when he advertised that a visit to an air-conditioned movie theater “imparts the same splendid physical Exhilaration you would feel after a two-hour vacation in the naturally pure air of the Mountains.” He described hotel dining rooms “where even the Air is Appetizing.” And he predicted that “you will see the day when Manufactured Weather is making ‘Every day a good day’ all over the land, in every type of building from the modest bungalow to the spreading industrial plant enclosing millions of square feet of space. Mark my words.”
Carrier’s booster optimism was more than justified. Americans, in the 1960’s and 70’s, became accustomed to air conditioning in their schools and working places and homes, and they began to expect it wherever they went. Vast shopping centers, like Rochester’s Midtown Plaza, Savannah’s Oglethorpe Plaza and Dallas’ North Park Mall, each of which enclosed nearly 1.5 million square feet, were air-conditioned. Imaginative planners like Walt Disney and his colleagues explored the possibility of city centers entirely enclosed and air-conditioned.
A climax of the new stage of indoor-outdoor confusion came appropriately enough in 1965 with the building of the Houston Sports Astrodome which aimed to bring an entire 650-foot span, large enough to enclose a baseball diamond or a football field, under air conditioning. For this purpose there was an elaborate set of testing instruments: outdoors, a pyroheliometer on the roof to measure the angle and intensity of the sunlight, and an anemometer to record the velocity and direction of the wind; indoors, an ultraviolet sensor to register the density of smoke and dust in the air, and to note variations of visibility, humidity, and temperature in all parts of the arena. The clear plastic shell, admitting sunlight to the ground inside, actually allowed real grass to grow on the playing field, but this produced a blinding glare for the baseball player who looked up to catch a high fly. When the plastic was painted over to keep out the sun glare, the grass died. To preserve an outdoor effect, this stubble was at first painted green. Then plastics technicians devised a new kind of artificial grass, “Astroturf,” which had the appearance of grass from a distance, and for playing purposes had resilience and the other qualities required. For sports purposes, Astroturf soon proved in many ways superior to the real thing, and was then installed on some outdoor football fields and outdoor “lawn” tennis courts; it even began to appear in some city lawns.
There was less difference than ever before between what man could do indoors and what he had to go outdoors and brave the weather for. There were all sorts of new indoor ways of getting water to drink, of disposing of human waste, of enjoying sports. Americans began to carry their indoors with them when they listened to stereo music and radio news in their air-conditioned auto capsule or on the beach. The common-sense distinction between outdoors and in, between the world Nature’s God had made and man’s little artificial world was blurred as never before, leaving Americans more disoriented than they commonly realized.