In the early 1950s, the tufting process was invented. A large number of needles insert filaments of fiber into a fabric backing. Then a flexible adhesive like polyurethane or polyvinyl chloride is used to bind the fibers to the backing. This is the procedure used for the majority of residential and commercial carpets. A tufting machine can produce a length of carpet that is 15 ft (4.6 m) wide and more than 3 ft (1 m) long in one minute.
In the early 1960s, the Ford Foundation, as part of its mission to advance human achievement, asked science and industry to develop synthetic playing surfaces for urban spaces. They hoped to give urban children year-round play areas with better play quality and more uses than the traditional concrete, asphalt, and compacted soil of small urban playgrounds. In 1964, the first installation of the new playing surface called Chemgrass was installed at Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island.
In 1966, artificial turf was first used in professional major-league sports and gained its most famous brand name when the Astrodome was opened in Houston, Texas. By the first game of the 1966 season, artificial turf was installed, and the brand name Chemgrass was changed to AstroTurf. (Although the name AstroTurf is used as a common name for all types of artificial turf, the name is more accurately used only for the products of the AstroTurf Manufacturing Company.)
Artificial turf also found its way into the applications for which it was originally conceived, and artificial turf was installed at many inner-city playgrounds. Some schools and recreation centers took advantage of artificial turfs properties to convert building roofs into "grassy" play areas.
After the success of the Astrodome installation, the artificial turf market expanded with other manufacturers entering the field, most notably the 3M (Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing) Company with its version known as Tartan Turf. The widespread acceptance of artificial turf also led to the boom in closed and domed stadium construction around the world.
In the early 1970s, artificial turf came under scrutiny due to safety and quality concerns. Some installations, often those done by the number of companies that sprang up to cash in on the trend, began to deteriorate. The turf would wear too quickly, seams would come apart, and the top layer would soon degrade from exposure to sunlight. Athletes and team doctors began to complain about the artificial surfaces, and blamed the turf for friction burns and blisters. Natural turf yields to the force of a blow, but an arm or leg driven along the unyielding surface of artificial turf is more likely to be injured. Since artificial turf does not have the same cooling effects as natural turf, surface temperatures can be 30° warmer above the artificial surfaces. Baseball players claimed that a ball would bounce harder and in less predictable ways, and some soccer players claimed that the artificial surface makes the ball roll faster, directly affecting the game. However, the National Football League and the Stanford Research Institute declared in 1974 that artificial turf was not a health hazard to professional football players, and its use continued to spread.
In the 1990s, biological turf began to make a comeback when a marketing of nostalgia in professional sport resulted in the re-emergence of outdoor stadiums. Many universities—responding to the nostalgia, advances in grass biology, and the fears about increased risk of injury on artificial turf—began to reinstall natural turf systems. However, natural turf systems continue to require sunlight and maintenance (mowing, watering, fertilizing, aerating), and the surface may deteriorate in heavy rain. Artificial turf offers a surface that is nearly maintenance-free, does not require sunlight, and has a drainage system. Recent developments in the artificial turf industry are new systems that have simulated blades of grass supported by an infill material so the "grass" does not compact. The resulting product is closer to the look and feel of grass than the older, rug-like systems. Because of these factors, artificial turf will probably continue to be a turf surface option for communities, schools, and professional sports teams.
The Houston Astrodome.
Dubbed "The Eighth Wonder of the World," the Houston Astrodome opened April 9, 1965 for the first major-league baseball game ever played indoors. Americans hailed the massive $48.9-million concrete, steel, and plastic structure as a historic engineering feat. A rigid dome shielded the 150,000-ft 2 (13,935 m 2 ) playing field of natural grass from the Texas heat, wind, and rain. The Astrodome was the world's first permanently covered stadium.
The roof—642 ft (196 m) in diameter and constructed on the principles of American architect Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome—contained 4,596 rectangular panes of Lucite, an acrylic material designed to allow the sun to shine through without casting shadows. Still, the Houston Astros baseball team soon complained that the resulting glare made it difficult to catch fly balls. Stadium officials tinted the Lucite gray, but the tint was not good for the grass, which turned a sickly shade of brown. As a result, when the team took to the field for the 1966 season, their spikes dug into another revolutionary baseball first: synthetic grass. Today, AstroTurf—as the material was called—blankets more than 500 sports arenas in 32 countries.
The Astrodome underwent $60 million worth of renovations to increase its seating capacity in 1989. As the years went on, new technology developed making this "Eighth Wonder" outdated. The Astros played their last game at the Astrodome on October 9, 1999 before moving to Enron Field. The same year, the Houston Oilers relocated to Tennessee and were renamed the Tennessee Titans. Despite these losses, the Astrodome still hosts over 300 events a year.