No 1950’s sitcom was complete without a happy family, a beautiful yard, and of course, a white picket fence.  For decades, white picket fences have symbolized the dream of a middle class The American lifestyle includes a moderate house on its own privately-owned property, surrounded by a fence that’s more of a decorative perimeter marker than an actual criminal deterrent.  In today’s post, we take a look at the white picket fence and how it’s come to represent idealized American life.


Why are Picket Fences white?

The white picket fence is as American as apple pie.  When people dream of owning a home, one of the things they often picture in the yard is a white fence.  The history of the white picket fence is older than the United States itself.  Learn more about the story of the picket fence and why it’s a “must-have” for so many homeowners.

What makes a picket fence different from other styles of fencing is the use of pickets—vertical boards or posts that often have a pointed top. The word “picket” comes from the French word piquer, meaning “to pierce.”  The vertical pickets are evenly spaced along horizontal rails to create the fence.  Usually, picket fences are just a few feet high.


Early Picket Fences

You can trace the origin of the white picket fence back to the days when colonists from England and other parts of Europe were making their way over to what’s now the United States.  As people began to settle in the American colonies and began to build their own homes, many of them wanted to set up barriers to clearly mark what was theirs.  People installed picket fences around their properties as a way to claim their turf and in an attempt to keep others from wandering onto their property or stealing things.  Back then, the fences were made of wood because it was a readily available material.


White Color

There are a few theories as to why the earliest picket fences were painted white.  The whitewash could be a sign of wealth and privilege.  People setting up white fences effectively told their neighbors that not only were they wealthy landowners, but they also had the means to set up and maintain a clean, white fence.  Another explanation for the white color of the fences is that white is eye-catching and easy to see.  A person returning home at night could see their fence from a distance.  The white color of the fence was also easy to see in daylight.


Colonial Beginnings

White picket fences have been used to showcase class and style all the way back to the colonial days.  Since whitewash was expensive and harder to maintain than plain wooden fences, it became a symbol of prosperity.  Those who could own and maintain whitewashed wood either had time on their hands, or the money to buy someone else’s time.  In that respect, not much has changed since the 1600s!


The 1950’s American Dream

As television rose to prominence in the 50s and 60s, so did notions of what constituted an ideal home and lifestyle.  Popular shows such as Leave it to Beaver and The Brady Bunch showed elegant housewives serving up witty comebacks and piles of food to several cheerful, rambunctious children.  The white picket fence enclosed this middle-class fairytale, as more and more families flocked from the cities to the suburbs.  As writer Michael Dolan puts it in his article for Smithsonian Magazine, “A kind, gentle America posed behind the pickets in television fantasies…an imaginary all-white realm in which the worst thing that could happen was Eddie Haskell teasing the Beaver.”


Americans Choose Security Over Charm

All good things must come to an end, so did the popularity of the picket fence.  As tensions of the Cold War rose, many homeowners began to install more secure options such as chain-link fences and spiked metal fences.  The mood of the country was no longer that of post-war bliss, but pre-war apprehension and fear, and our fences changed to reflect that ominous viewpoint.


White Pickets are Revived

In the 1980s, the white picket fence was revived by New Urbanist developers attempting to recreate the idyllic suburbs of yesteryear.  Today, white picket fences are a reminder of a bygone area of openness and trust.  As one developer put it, “You can see through it; if you need to, you can hop over it.  If you’re standing in your yard and someone on the sidewalk pauses, you can have a conversation.” Even though the “good old days” were often as politically complex as ours is, that hasn’t stopped the white picket fence from sliding into popular culture as a visual shorthand for the good life.

Modern Day Picket Fences

The modern-day picket fence has a lot in common with its early ancestors, but it’s also evolved somewhat over the years.  Although people don’t equate having a picket fence with having an immense amount of wealth anymore, the style of fence is still part of the “American Dream.”.  Although wood fences are still a popular choice in New Jersey, vinyl fences are also available nowadays.  Both vinyl and wood picket fences are easy to take care of and are meant to be durable and long-lasting.

Paint restricts the ability of the timber to breath.  This can increase moisture content, which results in potential problems with rotting.  Wood Fences need upkeep and should be painted every 3 years.  To avoid the appearance of peeling and cracking, it’s advised to repaint your fence every 3 years, or when any imperfections begin to appear.


Contact us

In the case of a rental property, you must talk with your landlord before painting.  Ensure that you discuss the colors with him.  Productive painting offers professional power washing and residential, commercial, and industrial interior and exterior painting services to the communities of Wall, NJ and throughout Monmouth County, NJ.  Fully licensed and insured, Productive Painting Company is owner operated NJ LICENSE #13VH04439800.  Hours of operation Mon to Fri 8 AM to 5 PM and Saturday 8 AM to 1 PM.  Closed Sundays.

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