Thanks to the gunite and hand-packing concrete processes, the price
of residential swimming pools plummeted between the
early-’40s and late-’50s. But they continued to remain
out of reach for many homeowners in the Northeast and Midwest,
where harsh weather conditions necessitated more expensive
Several pioneering manufacturers reached out to this remaining
sector of the middle class by producing and packaging
easy-to-install wall systems with all the necessary components. As
an added benefit, this method of installation required fewer men
and a simpler building process than any inground pool to
The first company to offer such a package, Cascade Industries,
opened its doors in 1954. The company offered three choices of wall
configurations: 12 by 27 feet, 16 by 34 feet and 24 by 40 feet, all
with depths starting at 3 feet and sloping down to 5, 7 or 8 feet.
The use of concrete blocks for the walls, however, did result in
one problem: The blocks could leave the end product as much as 6
inches off the original plans.
At about the same time, Heldor Industries came out with a
poured-concrete package pool. Esther Williams Pools was soon to
follow in 1956 with its concrete-block package pools.
These early packages did present their share of problems: The
filters cost extra, and the fittings and drains used for concrete
pools didn’t work. Cascade’s founders soon looked to
the boating industry for components that could be adapted to
Within a few years, Cascade and Esther Williams began offering
pools with walls made of a relatively new product: pressure-treated
wood. Cascade offered its 16-foot wood-walled model through the
Spiegel catalog. The package contained panels, lumber bracing,
liner, coping, a tank for filtration, four gate valves, 70 feet of
1-inch pipe and 40 feet of 1-1/4-inch pipe, plus fittings,
instructions and a layout kit. It sold for $995.
The floors were finished with sand before crews placed the 20-mil
liners over the structure. The coping had no track-and-beading
system to hold the liner in place, so builders wrapped the liner
around the pool top.
Because builders didn’t have vacuum devices at their disposal
to fit the liners in place, they would fill the pool with water,
hoping the water pressure would press the vinyl tightly against the
Before long, the industry called for a different material —
something lighter that could be easily mass produced, shipped and
stored, and would hold up longer in the ground. This led to the
development of the steel-walled pool in the early-’60s, with
an aluminum version following on its heels. Steel had been used in
commercial pools since before World War II, with some panels
measuring 1/4-inch thick and welded together at the site. These,
too, were concentrated in the eastern half of the country because
shipping farther west cost too much.
Working with steel, manufacturers could cut the product to more
perfect tolerances and build in ribs and flanges for added
strength. However, the steel-manufacturing process limited pool
configurations because fabricators had to cut from steel sheets
provided by their suppliers.
Early package-pool manufacturers created their industry from
scratch, recruiting and training builders on how to sell and
install this quick, low-cost alternative to gunite. By 1964,
package pools accounted for an estimated 16 percent of U.S. pool
These pools were still primarily rectangular with aqua-colored
interiors and white coping. Like their concrete cousins, early
package pools had hard, 90-degree corners, making it impossible for
a liner to fit snugly, leaving air gaps at the corners and putting
extra stress on the liners.
Components didn’t always match perfectly and early braces
were not made for easy adjustability, which made it tedious to
readjust them if they got thrown out of alignment.
During the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, manufacturers
were able to refine these design quirks. They developed galvanizing
and coating methods to protect the steel against deterioration.
Wider flanges, more bends and ribbing were added to walls for extra
strength along with a prefabricated coping with a bead receptacle
for the liner.
Builders began adding concrete collars at the base of the wall
system for added permanence. They created “hard
bottoms” surfaced with 1 to 2 inches of grout, vermiculite or
concrete for more durability. Conversely, some builders softened
the walls by adding sheets of foam between the wall and
Initially, concrete pool builders resisted this prefabricated line
of products with their softer materials. “When they first
came out, we laughed at them,” said Al Rizzo, president of
Rizzo Construction Pools in Newington, Conn. “I kept looking
at it as something that would just disappear. It would go away. Who
would want it? By 1965, I think we did 85 liner pools in one
This stigma took years to eradicate, with major progress made in
the 1970s, when package-pool manufacturers began participating in
the inner circle of the National Spa & Pool Institute.
In the late-’70s and early-’80s, manufacturers began
offering polymer wall assemblies. The lighter material could be
molded to any shape, and once consumers overcame their initial
resistance (plastic glass, yes; plastic pools, no), they warmed to
this shape flexibility. Steel- and aluminum-wall manufacturers had
to follow suit, finding ways to offer more shapes themselves.
Later that decade came computer-aided drafting (CAD) to ease the
ordering process and yield better-fitting liners. CAD could help
builders create any shape of wall system and vinyl liner they could
Another prefabricated product, fiberglass pools, also began
production in earnest in the late-’50s and early-’60s,
after a slow start some time in the 1940s. Pascal Paddock is
credited with this first fiberglass pool, engineered as a
15-by-30-foot oval that came in four parts that fit together like
Distribution was narrow because of difficulty in shipping and
inconsistencies in sealing and color matching.
In the late-’50s, W. R. Chance Co. produced a 15-by-35-foot,
one-piece fiberglass pool. In 1958, Family Fun Pools began
manufacturing a prefabricated pool made with fiberglass sidewalls
and a poured concrete floor. These proved more flexible in size and
shape than the one-piece units.
San Juan Pools, which opened its doors in 1958, spent its first two
decades selling forms to dealers, who would manufacture the vessels
they installed. This changed in the mid-’70s when the
manufacturer shifted to the more efficient method of making and
shipping all units, which it shaped to stack like paper cups for
easy transportation and storage.
In the 1990s, manufacturers and installers of fiberglass and
package pools set a new goal for the ’90s — to make
their pools look as customized as gunite. Vinyl installers now
enjoy many more liner patterns, some with three-dimensional tile
looks, as well as fiberoptic applications; the ability to
cantilever decks over wall assemblies and to install waterfeatures.
A few pioneers have even installed vinyl-liner vanishing edges on
After the development of CAD, fiberglass manufacturers, in turn,
began molding one-piece units into more and more shapes. They also
made materials more durable in the mid-’80s at the prompting
of the boating industry. Having already begun using ceramic
waterline tile and developed a system to cantilever decks in the
late-’70s, they also have found ways to incorporate these and
other modern extras such as raised-beam waterfalls and spillover