There is nothing that symbolizes the American dream better than the single family home with a yard and the iconic white picket fence. Just say the words and they immediately conjure up a cute little house, gingerbread trim and a lovely rose garden out front. Ozzie and Harriet brought the concept to our TV screens back in the day and the tradition is alive and well even to this day. Put a picket fence around your yard and your home is a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. Like baseball and apple pie, it is a part of Americana.

Picket fences immediately bring to mind the ideas of family values and tradition but not many people are familiar with their history and origin. The name comes from the individual wood slats, which are called pickets. The typical fence of this type is fairly short and built out of wood that is later whitewashed. The flat pickets have a point at the top and they are evenly spaced along the length of the fence. Nails are used to attach the pickets to rails along the bottom and top. The rails are in turn nailed to vertical posts that are spaced evenly and buried in the ground. If a gate is needed, it is constructed using the same method.

This kind of fence is believed to be adapted from a type of fencing used in medieval times. Paling, as it was called, featured flat stakes driven into the ground. In an attempt to make their homes more decorative, American settlers borrowed the idea of paling and it eventually evolved into the type of fencing that we are so familiar with today. It was sometime during the latter part of the 18th Century when companies started mass-producing fences. Once that occurred, picket fences started popping up in neighborhoods all across the country.

The picket fence today has become much more expressive and individualized than its 18th Century ancestor, which consisted simply of white wooden slats. Materials today are varied and range from plastic to aluminum and even vinyl. Traditionally short in stature, the picket fences of today can be up to six feet tall. In the old days they were used only as a way to define property lines and mark boundaries. Today, they are also used as driveway accents and decorative landscaping elements. The design elements have even carried over into the construction of furniture making the picket fences of today not just functional but extremely versatile as well.