A man and woman sit by a poolside. A boy is standing in the pool, awaiting a ball in the man's hand.
July 26, 2019

America’s summertime postwar swimming pool craze

Backyard pool ownership grew 25-fold after World War II, making the poolside a popular place for summertime parties and fun. Learn more about how Wells Fargo supported middle-class customers and helped make backyard swimming pools more accessible.

Before WWII, few Americans owned a backyard swimming pool. In 1949, only about 10,000 homes in the U.S. had a pool. Within 10 years, that number would grow exponentially — to 250,000 homes.

The sudden growth and popularity of private swimming pools reflected a revolution in building technology, homeownership, and bank financing in the postwar period.

Wells Fargo Home Improvement Loan commercial for a swimming pool in 1964. Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives. (0:20)

In the 1920s, construction of a private 20-by-40-foot residential pool with filters and cleaners cost $8,000 – $15,000 (about $100,000 – $200,000 today). These expensive “estate pools” required crews of workers to either build a wall of concrete blocks by hand or to hand pour and carefully form the concrete. Lack of sealants and plaster coatings meant that the pools also tended to leak after installation. By the end of WWII, technological innovations led to cheaper and quicker installations of pools. Gunite pools, created with concrete applied by pressure-hose, reduced costs to an average of $3,400 (about $32,000 today) for a 20-by-40-foot in-ground pool in 1955. While still expensive, owning a pool became a possibility for middle-class families with some new financial tools.

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Wells Fargo Home Improvement Loan advertisement for a swimming pool in the 1970s. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

As the Los Angeles Times noted in 1956: “Nonetheless, a swimming pool project is no longer the major undertaking it once was. Everything, including the financing, has been well worked out in order that a family can have an enjoyable and sound investment.”

Following WWII, banks offered home mortgages on an unprecedented scale, driving a rush of suburban development. The number of people living in suburbs grew from 9% to 30% from 1920 to 1960. New subdivisions popularized modern conveniences and offered homes with yards large enough to make swimming pool installation feasible.

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Customer brochure from 1958 detailing how a Wells Fargo loan can help a customer buy a $2,750 swimming pool for $87.85 a month over three years. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives

Families since the 1930s had used loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration and offered at local banks to pay for home improvements, like installation of electrical wiring and indoor plumbing. Congressional representatives disapproved of the federally insured loans funding luxuries like swimming pools, and they changed the law in the 1950s to restrict federally backed lending for some home improvements.

Wells Fargo and other banks realized that their customers enjoyed having the flexibility of a home loan for major improvements and began offering their own lending programs with terms designed to appeal to customers’ budgets. Instead of paying a construction company thousands of dollars outright, a customer could take out a loan to pay for the pool in small monthly payments over three to five years.

For those not interested in a loan, new automatic savings programs made growing a fund to buy a pool in the future easy. Instead of having to remember to deposit money, the new automatic accounts moved the money for the customer on a scheduled basis.

Today, customers interested in having their own backyard pool party can still turn to Wells Fargo to help find the financial flexibility they need.

Have you ever had a pool in your backyard?

This publication is not an advertisement or promotional offering. The advertisements displayed in this publication are for historical context only and do not reflect current offerings by Wells Fargo.