A brief history of the middle class man’s game:
The oldest mini golf course in existence can actually be found in Scotland: The Ladies’ Putting Club of St. Andrews was formed in 1867 as a members-only green for women golfers. Of course, the club was a result of the conventions of the day that decreed it improper for a lady to “take the club back past their shoulder.” There may not have been any windmills or loop-the-loop obstacles on this course, but the green was and remains one of the most prestigious miniature courses around.
All of the early miniature golf courses fell under a few broad categories, including the “pitch and putt,” the “regulation par-3,” and the “executive.” All of them used a short driver along with a putter, and kept the same design of the larger courses: sand traps, hills, ponds, and trees. In 1916, James Barber designed a miniature golf course in North Carolina called “Thistle Dhu.” The course was compact and featured a classical design, with fountains, gardens, and geometrically-designed walkway patterns. In 1926, a few innovative designers created miniature golf courses on the roof of a New York City skyscraper, and other buildings followed suit ““ around 150 rooftop courses were in existence by the end of the decade in New York City alone.
Of course, the impulse for middle-class athletics has its own origins:
In the late nineteenth century a new middle class emerged that had more leisure time and more disposable income than common people had ever enjoyed before in America. They were the employees and managers of corporations, who, because they were working for someone else, kept strict hours, had a dependable source of income, and had less personal interest in their work than was common in small business, where the owner had direct contact with his workers. Eager to spend their newfound time and money outside the workplace, the middle class turned to sports, either as spectators or participants. Those not interested in athletic competition found other forms of recreation and leisure-time activities. Prior to the Gilded Age (the name given to this era by novelist Mark Twain) organized leisure was a luxury enjoyed by the upper classes, who had idle hours to spend in sports and recreation. Now, however, the elite had to compete with commoners on the playing field and for a seat in the audience. Blue-collar workers and unskilled laborers still lacked the resources to engage in the same sports and recreational pursuits of the middle class. They found their own fun in ways often considered uncouth by people conscious of their social status. Barroom games and saloon-sponsored teams were popular in lower-class neighborhoods.
Being middle class has long had its advantages. You might be boring, but at least you had the chance to become one of the bourgeois:
Rather than resist the up and coming noveau riche, the old aristocracy rather embraced the development, and cashed in on opportunity wherever they could. One writer says that the old money crowd met the new money people “coming up the staircase.” Quite often, European aristocratic families married sons or daughters off to the American sons and daughters of wealthy industrialists, the marriage presumably increasing the social status of one and the innate wealth of the other. Aristocratic families themselves began engaging in business and mining on their estates rather than relying on rents for income. An example is Otto Von Bismarck of Germany, who made a fortune by distilling brandy on his family estates.
Below the upper level were the truly “middle” classes. One might describe them as “middle middle,” comprised of moderately successful industrialists and merchants as well as physicians and attorneys. They lived comfortably, but lacked the immense wealth of the upper crust. Among this group were specialized professions such as engineers, architects, chemists, accountants, and surveyors who developed into full-fledged professional status. A second type of profession developed comprising those who managed large public or private institutions. This included government officials and business managers who had specialized knowledge and earned a comfortable income from the practice of their profession.
In the 20th Century, particularly in the years after World War Two, this led to the rise of the suburbs, those ultimate symbols of middle-class living:
After World War II with the sudden increase of men coming home after the war started a serious housing shortage. The GI bill of 1944 provided money to educate and build houses for the returning soldiers. A man named William Levitt bought thousands of acres of land outside of cities like New York and Philadelphia Levitt then proceeded to plan out the construction of towns full of prefabricated houses.
One of the first Levittown communities was started in Hempstead Town, Long Island, New York, and was developed between 1946 and 1951 by the firm of Levitt and Sons, Inc. It was an early example of a completely preplanned and mass-produced housing complex. Containing thousands of low-cost homes with accompanying shopping centers, playgrounds, swimming pools, community halls, and schools, its name became a national symbol for suburbia during the post-World War II building boom.
The middle class became something to rebel against in the Sixties, although many of those rebelling ultimately rejoined it. Today, the middle class can be defined by its tastes and attitudes as much as its income levels, but it is still uniquely American. We are the suburbs.