What is Astroturf?
Astroturf is a brand of synthetic turf that is widely regarded as the first synthetic turf ever developed. Over the years, the Astroturf brand has been owned by many companies. At present, it is part of Sport Group, a company that also includes Polytan, Polytex, Synlawn and Formaturf, amongst others.
Astroturf was developed in the 1960s. It was developed by Chemstrand Company, a subsidiary of Monsanto Industries. The company had been invited by the Ford Foundation in the 1950s to develop a surface that could be used other than the concrete and brick surfaces that were used at the time for urban playing grounds. Apart from the U.S. Army having established during the Korean War that urban recruits were less physically fit than recruits from rural areas, the Ford Foundation also wanted to provide children with outdoor play spaces, even though the schools would lack such facilities.
The first-ever synthetic turf surface was installed at Moses Brown School in Providence Rhode Island.
While its final result, ChemGrass, did meet all requirements stipulated, production costs were too high to make it viable for covering inner-city playgrounds.
In 1966, the Houston Astrodome turned to ChemGrass, as the grass in the infield wasn’t growing well. Due to the subtropical climate and hot summers Houston experiences, the recently opened stadium had been fitted with a glass dome to control the inside temperature, while the translucency of the glass would benefit the grass. Athletes soon started to complain that glare caused by the glass made it impossible for them to follow the trajectory of the ball. The decision to paint the glass turned out to be disastrous for the grass field. ChemGrass worked out well and it was decided in 1967 to change the name to Astroturf.
Nylon as a raw material
The first Astroturf synthetic turf surface consisted of nylon 6.6 mixed with cadmium yellow and phthalocyanine blue, which combined to form a green colour. Nylon can absorb six times its own weight in moisture, which is released when pressure is exercised on the surface, resulting in a cooling down effect of the ambient temperature over the field. In 1970, a German company decided to replicate the surface, but instead of using nylon, it used polypropylene as a raw material, widely available in Germany at the time. Although polypropylene offers less strength and resiliency than nylon, it is cheaper. Polypropylene also has a lower melting point than nylon, which makes the manufacturing process easier. Last but not least, polypropylene is much softer to the skin than nylon, thus reducing the likelihood or severity of an injury. This mattered in Europe, as, contrary to athletes playing baseball or American Football, protective gear is hardly ever part of the kit used by athletes playing sports like football, rugby or hockey, which are considered typical European sports.
1976 Montreal Olympics
Astroturf featured during the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal in Canada as a surface for hockey. Clubs and players had identified the surface as being much faster, more consistent and predictable, providing a true ball bounce and better suited to technical players. It was truly embraced by hockey clubs around the world, and for many years, the brand became synonymous with the highest quality synthetic turf (for hockey).