If the 1960s were the pool industry’s early years,
the 1970s were its adolescence — a time of shifting extremes,
and strange new challenges.
People and companies that would shape the coming decades entered
the scene for the first time. Cultural roles shifted. Novel ideas
were weighed and debated. Sexuality was celebrated and explored,
and some relationships were ended, while new ones were
In short, this was the decade when the industry came to know
In fact, nearly everyone seemed to be looking inward in those days,
inspiring journalist Tom Wolfe to label the ’70s “The
As he put it, the dream of the era was “changing one’s
personality — remaking, remodeling, elevating and polishing
one’s very self.” And after its freewheeling youth in
the ’60s, the pool industry had plenty of polishing to
Companies and politics
It was in the ’70s, for example, that pool building, which
was perceived strictly as a construction trade during the
’60s, was rapidly being seen as an area with profound
contributions to the field of design.
As consumers around the world were starting to realize, swimming
pools had the potential to be far more than backyard playgrounds as
builders began to introduce more artistic and landscaping elements
into their projects. Many started competing for industry honors
such as the National Swimming Pool Institute Design Awards.
As the scale of the pool industry grew, organizations such as NSPI,
the Associated Swimming Pool Industries of Florida (ASPI) and the
Independent Pool Servicemen’s Association (IPSA, as it was
then called) struggled with internal politics more than ever
before. Splinter groups broke off from many regional NSPI chapters,
while city-level industry groups in markets such as Dallas and
Miami debated the merits of joining forces with one association or
another. By the closing years of the decade, it became clear that
the majority were choosing to align with NSPI.
As in many industries, the question of clean energy prompted wave
after wave of debate. Champions of gas heaters arose to defend
their low-cost devices, while supporters of solar heating (the new
kid on the block) trumpeted the benefits of long-term energy
savings and renewable power. As early as July 1970, Pool News
editor Faye Coupe urged industry professionals to “do
something about [air] pollution,” but it wasn’t until
later in the decade that the issue gained serious attention.
In the midst of the recession and energy crisis of the late
’70s, city, county and state lawmakers across the nation
flirted with the idea of banning gas heaters altogether, or making
solar heating mandatory on all new pools.
As the decade drew to a close, though, no state had kept a ban or a
mandate on any type of heating system on the books for longer than
The pool industry’s attitude toward women saw a major shift
as the ’70s progressed. As in many other fields, women were
stepping away from the secretary’s desk and into the
executive office on a scale never before seen. Still, as late as
June 1976, Jandy’s sales manager could boast that as far as
he knew, Jandy was “the first manufacturer in [the pool]
industry to put a woman customer relations person in the
As the popular concept of the demure housewife gave way to that of
the empowered woman, male and female responses were mixed. Some
could only summon the sort of backhanded respect that was common
throughout the early 20th century: Women might be better than men
at certain tasks — especially those involving organization
and social niceties — but the real decision-making was best
left to men.
“Men are defined by women,” said the president of one
pool supply company in a January 1974 article — before
adding, “a king isn’t a king unless his subjects agree
Others shrugged at the shift in roles, saying that it would be up
to women to prove themselves in the male-dominated workplace.
“Small businesses desperately need someone … who will
watch costs, employees, supplies [and] customer service,”
Coupe said in June 1975. “A competent wife may well fill this
A few, however, guessed that women might bring some unique insights
to the office and the field. “Wives not only are capable
bookkeepers, but can also handle a man’s job — or
whatever used to be a man’s job — with unbelievable
efficiency,” said the female president of a pool supply
company in a September 1974 interview.
The pool industry’s developments in gender equality
paralleled the evolution of its attitude toward women in general.
But advertising throughout the ’70s was saturated with models
dressed in tiny bikinis — or even less.
Ads for spas, especially, targeted the erotic aspect of aquatic
recreation; many featured self-assured men reclining in hot tubs,
surrounded by harems of adoring eye candy. In one Riviera Spas ad,
a tiger lounged in a spa while a bikini-clad woman relaxed (or
tried to) by his side. In case any ambiguity remained, the
company’s executive vice president helpfully clarified the
message in a September 1978 interview: “A tiger,” he
explained, “connotes sex.”
The verbal side of advertising was sometimes even less subtle. An
ad for FreeStyle chemicals, featuring a model lounging among
barrels of chlorine and algaecide, opened with the words,
“Take advantage of our girl. She won’t mind.
This sort of chauvinism seemed to be par for the course in those
days — but as the decade drew to a close, a backlash was
brewing. An article in an April 1979 issue of Pool & Spa News
noted that raunchy ads were a hard sell for many spa makers,
especially in more conservative regions of the country.
“If the hot tub industry is to expand beyond the market of
young innovators,” one manufacturer noted, “it must
appeal to a more conservative mentality.”
But as more women proved themselves in the workplace, they made it
clear that their objections to risqué advertising were based
on progressive ideals rather than a stick-in-the-mud
“They were not objecting [to the ads] on moral
grounds,” Coupe said of some young women she polled in 1979,
“but because they found [the ads’ imagery] demeaning to
Century Pool Covers decided to capitalize on this conflict.
Throughout 1979, the manufacturer ran a series of ads depicting a
no-nonsense grandmother who quipped, “When you’ve got a
great product, you don’t need skimpy bikinis to sell
it,” and, “If you’ve come to this ad looking for
cheap thrills, you’ve come to the wrong place,
The granny even made an appearance at that year’s NSPI
Convention-Exposition in Chicago, where she cracked wise at any
vixen foolish enough to strut past her rocking chair.
As it turned out, this reaction was just one facet of a much larger
shift in the industry’s perception of itself. For the first
time, it was becoming apparent that the real growth and influence
lay in the health and family-oriented markets.
Manufacturers and dealers began to emphasize the therapeutic
benefits of hot tubs — a Pool & Spa News article in
February 1979 went so far as to discuss spa soaking as a possible
“substitute for the psychiatric couch.”
That September, another article noted that “more and more
[spa] dealers [were] opting for the therapeutic sell” as the
“sexy sell … bombed out” in most markets.
By the end of the year, many ads were touting pools and spas as
central to backyard cookouts and other family gatherings.
These shifts in attitude would continue to define the industry for
decades to come, but it was in the ’70s that many of them saw
their birth — and many were pushed to extremes, until other
cultural forces pushed back.
As the decade drew to a close, the industry was more
energy-conscious, gender-equal and professional in demeanor than
ever before — but it could never have arrived at maturity if
it hadn’t first sown some wild oats.