In the early half of this century, most consumers considered the dream of owning a backyard pool just that, a dream. Pools were for movie stars and millionaires, not the hard-working family next door. The introduction of aboveground pools — a grown-up version of the wading pool —  turned those dreams into a reality. 

During the late-1920s and early-’30s, firms experimented with the construction of a portable, aboveground pool. At that time, their efforts resulted in crudely fashioned yet workable, heavy-canvas tanks, supported by wooden barrels or steel struts.

By the 1940s, manufacturers such as Haugh’s Products (now Atlantic Pools) and Doughboy Recreational began experimenting with masonite, steel and aluminum framing. Initially, tubular or roll-form framework made of steel or aluminum supported the pools. The liners, typically made of treated synthetic fabric, fit over the top rail like a sleeve and were tied or snapped into place.

These early aboveground pools, like the concrete pools before them, lacked circulation systems and were drained and refilled as needed to keep the water fresh.

From the mid-’50s through the ’60s, other industry players such as Bilnor Corp., Coleco (later purchased by Lomart Industries), Muskin Leisure, Wilkes Pools and the Delair Group added lines to the market. The new pools sported epoxy-coated steel walls supported by posts made of galvanized steel or extruded aluminum. A 2-inch-wide top rail (expanded to approximately 9 inches by the 1990s) provided structural support. On the pools’ interiors, manufacturers introduced vinyl liners, designed to withstand harsh winter weather — allowing pools to be left outside throughout the year.

By this time, circulation systems began to show up: Home Pool Equipment and Lomart, which provided a total package with a filter system in 1958, have been credited as being two of the early innovators. Soon, pools were available with heavy-duty sand and gravel filters and automatic in-wall skimmers.

Pools of the ’60s featured 48-inch walls and came in a circular shape for even water-weight distribution. By the late-’60s, manufacturers found ways to provide supplemental support through exterior buttresses, allowing them to introduce an oval shape.

Rectangular and square pools followed, although industry purists consider these pools to be onground rather than aboveground pools. Many of these incorporated some excavation work to allow for a deeper end.

In an attempt to sell to the masses, manufacturers sold the colorfully packaged pools at local stores including flower shops, toy stores and department stores — Macy’s and Bloomingdales among others. Catalog retailers also did a booming business in abovegrounds, especially Sears and Spiegel. Abovegrounds were even sold door-to-door with salespeople displaying miniature models.

By the mid-’70s, aboveground pools attracted even more consumer attention with advances in construction and aesthetics. The pool walls, which had traditionally featured a plain or painted galvanized-steel surface — which resembled barn-door planking — received a bit of a facelift through the introduction of a vinyl-laminated exterior wall. While providing an updated look, the coating allowed for greater protection against rust and corrosion.

When the thin vinyl sheeting became unavailable, manufacturers returned to the painted finish, which had grown up to include more advanced inks, color choices and coating options. Thanks to new painting techniques and patterns, aboveground pools began to fit attractively into the home’s outdoor décor.

The late-’70s and early-’80s saw manufacturers enhancing the look of the liner. With new printing processes, the traditionally aqua-blue PVC-vinyl liners now offered pebble-like patterns on the bottom. Later, the choices grew and new wall patterns, including geometric shapes and tile-line mosaics, emerged.

The new patterns caused a minor problem — how to attach them without disrupting the design. The Delair Group, which produced both inground and onground vinyl-liner pools, introduced a new way to hang liners in the mid-’80s that eliminated the previous method of painstakingly adjusting the pattern along the tile line. The firm placed a beading on the top edge of the vinyl liner, which then hooked onto the pool wall. This application, which was not widely used until the ’90s, created the look of an inground liner in an aboveground pool.

The 1980s brought with it several challenges. For one, society had become more litigious and manufacturers had to answer questions regarding product-safety issues. Working in conjunction with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, they created and included water-safety information packets, safety signage and decals with their pools.

For another, a decline in sales led industry leaders to question whether the product had saturated the market.

Aboveground pools also owed a part of its evolution to happier trends in the mid-’80s. Responding to the popularity of resin furniture, Aqua Leader introduced some of the first pools to feature resin frames in 1987. Others soon included similar materials, providing a durable and often higher-priced alternative. 

The aboveground industry grew in other ways in the late-’80s — a new wall height of 52 inches introduced by Home & Roam and others had a snowball effect on many ancillary products. The extra 4 inches required changes in the specifications of the liners and ladders, among other products.

By the ’90s, aboveground pools, which could be found in both simplified and higher-end models, provided consumers with a range of options. Several firms experimented with alternative wall materials, including several soft-sided versions that hearken back to the canvas tank and wading pool of old.

For a more upscale look, manufacturers began incorporating many of the features and amenities associated with inground pools, such as fiberoptic lighting and elaborate decking designs. Regardless of the options chosen, the latest pools have provided today’s families with a new sense of style — still at an economical price when compared with ingrounds.