You never know where a story idea will come from . . . This one came from my husband when he powered up his new Lawn Boy power lawn mower. Who’d have guessed that our modern method of cutting grass originated with a romance? Not me, though I love my husband dearly for taking care of this particular chore.
The Lawn Boy love story began in 1904 with the pursuit of a woman who liked ice cream. Ole Evinrude, the eventual founder of Lawn-Boy, had eyes for Bess Cary. Bess liked ice cream and Ole wanted to bring her an ice cream cone. Two things stood in his way. He had to row across Wisconsin’s Okauchee Lake, and the sun was blazing hot. Determined to impress Bess, Ole made the trip, purchased the cone and rowed back across the lake as fast as he could. Predictably he arrived with a soupy mess.
Never again, he promised her. That promise led to the invention of the outboard motor. Ole perfected the design in 1907 and Bess presumably had all the ice cream cones she could eat. Evinrude Motors was born with Ole’s invention, a basic design that’s still in use today. Outboard motors eventually led to power lawn mowers. Through different mergers and partnerships, Evinrude Motors became Lawn-Boy, a multi-million dollar business that’s appreciated by millions of men and women who have the task of mowing the lawn.
My husband is glad for the power mower, but on a day like today–it’s 90 degrees outside and humid–he wouldn’t mind a little help from Mother Nature. Some American Presidents had the same idea. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson used sheep to control the grass on their estates. When Woodrow Wilson was president, sheep grazed on the White House lawn. This was more than just lawn control. It served as a reminder of the wool shortage during World War I. The wool from the sheep was auctioned for $100,000 with the proceeds going to the American Red Cross.
Having grown up in a suburban part of Los Angeles, I’ve always taken lawns for granted. Until I was about six, my dad waged war with dandelions and crabgrass in an effort to have a perfect dichondra lawn. He lost . . . but not without a fight that included weed killer and steer manure. (I can still smell it–phfew!) The weeds won and eventually he planted winter rye, the greenest grass I’d seen before coming to Bluegrass country here in Kentucky.
Lawns weren’t always common. In the 19th century they were considered a luxury and a sign of wealth. The upkeep required groundskeepers who cut the blades with scythes. It was a massive job that required surprising skill. Watering was a chore, too. Hoses and sprinklers came into use much later.
It’s not surprising that the game of golf had a role in getting grass to grow so commonly in America. In 1915, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture collaborated with the U.S. Golf Association to find a grass–or combination of grasses–that would grow in U.S. climates. Fifteen years later grass was common and a new industry had been born. To protect their beloved lawns, Americans needed fertilizer and pesticides. Throw in garden hoses, sprinklers and lawn mowers like the one invented by Ole Evinrude, and you have a brief history of lawns in America.
Just for fun . . . Do you have a lawn? What kind of mower do you use? Push or power? Does anyone have a ride-on? Check out this video for the coolest idea of all…