47 dangerous old playgrounds that our great-grandparents somehow survived

Dangerous old playgrounds our great-grandparents survived (2)

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When it comes to human history, “survival of the fittest” meant more than just our prehistoric evolution.

It also means our ancestors had to successfully navigate the old playgrounds at school and the parks, surviving all manner of swings, spinners, slides, jungle gyms and other old-school vintage play equipment.

Sure, there were bound to be some breaks, bumps and bruises among the survivors — but, based on the simple fact that you’re reading this right now, your ancestors clearly made it through childhood with their personal equipment intact.

Below, take a look back at the fun and games that children got up to during the 20th century — in the unsafe playground days long before plastic slides, rubber mats and safety rails (not to mention government guidelines and personal injury lawsuits) were commonplace.

Dangerous old playgrounds our great-grandparents survived (1)


1. A homemade slide (1918)

Apart from sliding down the cellar door, a slide made of a plank is about as low-tech (and as low-speed) as you could get.

Old homemade slide from 1918


2. Rings for swings and poles to climb (1905)

On the girls’ playground, Harriet Island, St. Paul, Minnesota, the girls had to swing high. Really high. And climb up. Way up.

Girls' playground, Harriet Island, St. Paul, Minn. 1905

3. “You want us to do what?!”

Six years or so after the photo above, chain ladders had been added to the playground mix. Here are some girls getting fit at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx, way back in June 1911.

Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx on June 1911

(Courtesy LOC)


4. The kids used to get really high

These photo from the early 1900s — showing a bunch of kids playing on sprawling steel pole playground equipment at Pittsburgh Pennsylvania’s Mount Washington Park — pretty much epitomize the risky business of play just over a hundred years ago.

MORE: Huge old outdoor public swimming pools like these made summertime cool for everyone 100 years ago

Old playground equipment and fun for kids from the 1920s (6)

5. Strings attached

Here is what they were up — way up — to back in 1900-1910 at Trinity Play Park in Dallas, Texas.

There’s a version of this photo going around the internet, tagged with the suggestion that the kid on the far left is falling… but he’s not. If you look closely enough, though, you can see ropes or chains that prove he’s just on a swing.

Children in 1900 on iron pole playground equipment at Trinity Play Park - Dallas

6. A metal maze

Here’s how one of these playgrounds looked minus the kids. It sort of looks like a minimalist Ikea version of a play structure.

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Vintage old playground fun from 1911 (2)

7. It’s only a 20-foot drop… (1912)

Very similar to the catalog page above, this huge, sprawling metal structure is part of the Hiawatha Playground in Seattle. You see it hosting about 40 kids who were up to all kinds of crazy shenanigans… including just hanging out 20 feet above the ground.

Hiawatha Playground, 1912. From the Seattle Municipal Archives Collection.

8. Like what you’d get if you bought a ridiculously cheap playground slide on Craigslist

The first thing that caught our eye in the photos up there is this thing: parallel poles pretending to be a slide. (They were actually called “incline poles” or “sliding poles.”)

We can see no danger whatsoever from this kind of contraption. Nope, not at all.

Crazy dangerous old playground from 1912

(Photos from the Seattle Municipal Archives Collection)

9. Who designed these things?!

This was created so kids could have nice, safe fun? That ladder must be 20 feet tall.

Vintage old playground fun from 1911 (3)

10. Hope you like splinters, too

Now here’s the same kind of old-school structure as shown above, but at this old playground in Boston, it was made out of wood. That sounds less like a fun thing to play on at recess, and more like a splinter delivery device.

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Columbus Ave. playground. Gymnasium and boys exercising c1905 - Boston Public Library

(Photo courtesy Boston Public Library)


11. Some of the earliest old-school swing sets

Sure, the ground was just dirt, but that was probably safer than concrete.

Old playground equipment and fun for kids from the 1920s (5)

Old playground equipment and fun for kids from the 1920s (11)

12. Rings, swings & trapeze

This was apparently a popular configuration for a swingset — sorry, we mean a “heavy-duty outdoor gymnasium.” (Not even gonna comment on what the “split clamp fittings” may or may not do.)

From 1940 - old playground heavy-duty outdoor gymnasium (2)

13. Almost there! (c1910)

The kids are having a great time… but if that boy keeps going, he might go right over the top.

Public playgrounds and around Boston c1910

(Photo courtesy Boston Public Library)

14. There is some serious swinging

That one kid swinging way back looks ready to land in the neighbor’s backyard.

Dangerous old-fashioned playgrounds from the twenties (1)

15. Double the danger, double the fun?

These boys and girls aren’t just flying high — like, perilously close to the steel bars at the top of the structure — but there are three swings with two kids each. (This phenomenon is also seen above.)

Kids doubled up on vintage playground swings

16. A sideways swing that Newton would love

When we see this swing…

Old playground from 1912 with sideways swing

… which looks like this without the kids…

Dangerous old-fashioned playgrounds from the twenties (2)

… we immediately think of the clacking balls on a Newton’s Cradle toy:

Newton's Cradle - Executive toy with clicking balls

(Top photo from the Seattle Municipal Archives Collection)

A dream-come-true vintage playhouse for the backyard: Creativity from the '60s


17. Faster! Faster! A wooden roundabout (1919-1920)

The old fashioned people-powered spinners have been around for generations, which means people have been falling off them, crashing into other kids, and being rocket-launched off them for at least a century.

In 1975, a medical journal wrote of some of the danger: “The youngest children were at particular risk on equipment such as the wooden rocking horse or roundabout, when the speed of operation could be controlled by older children.”

Certainly, the adults of the time must have told the kids to be careful. And the kids almost certainly responded, “Faster! Spin it faster!”

Playground 1919-1920

18. You spin me right round (1925)

On the Medart Ocean Wave (“With an Undulating and Wavelike Motion”) you could sit facing in or out — or stand — on this spinner from the mid-1920s. Which way you faced just depended on whether you wanted to throw up on bystanders, or on the other people on the ride with you.

Antique playground equipment from the 1920s - Medart ocean wave ride

19. Wanna go for a spin? The Swing Bob & Merry Wheel

Old playground equipment and fun for kids from the 1920s (14)

20. An old-school Pull-a-Way spinner (1950)

These spinny things ended up lasting — and being loved — for decades.

Steel playground equipment from 1950 at Click Americana (1)

21. Run, jump and hang on! (1924)

The ad for this spinner said, “There is plenty of action, bringing into play every muscle in the child’s body.”

Vintage playgrounds from 1924 - kids (2)

22. Girls getting some serious lift

Dangerous old-fashioned playgrounds from the twenties (4)

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23. Giant stride: Super-tall homemade versions with wagon wheels (1918)

From 1918: Petrus Liljedahl, to whom THE PLAYGROUND is indebted for these pictures of home-made apparatus in use on the Lincoln School playgrounds at St. Cloud, Minn., sends the following description:

“A giant stride made by placing a hind wheel of a wagon on top of an Idaho cedar pole in the same way in which you would put a wheel on a wagon. Arms on top of the wheel, held in place by two clevises, project two feet beyond the rim.

“An eye bolt is put through the arm about three inches from the end, from which the ropes are dropped to within three feet of the ground.

“This way of making a giant stride keeps the children far apart, the ropes seldom get tangled and it gives the children a much better swing.”

Giant stride playground toy - Super-tall homemade version (1918)

A similar version, with a long tree trunk as the center. (With chains that long, can you imagine how much lift you could get on this one?)

School playground in Kansas 1909

24. Rock & roll on a giant bowl made of aluminum pipe (1950s)

Curved aluminum pipe for a rocking playground feature (1958)



25. Busy jungle gyms made with horizontal and vertical bars

Old playground equipment from the 20s - Junglegym (2)

Here are some kids looking a little less uncomfortable/creepy than those up there.

Old playground equipment and fun for kids from the 1920s (10)

26. A vintage Junglegym could hold 100 kids at once. Really?

We count about 25 kids on this gym, and it looks pretty full. It’s kind of hard to imagine four times as many packed in there.

“The Junglegym No. 2 – a whole playground in itself. The model pictured [below] is capable of handling 100 children at a time — the only thing being necessary is space to set it up.”

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Old playground equipment from the 20s - Junglegym (3)

Fast forward to the Bronx in the ’40s, and we see what it looked like to get about 100 kids on a jungle gym.

Bronx Playground with tons of kids in 1940s

27. Fire chief on the old playground (1940)

What this pyramid-style jungle gym and a fire chief had in common is anyone’s guess. Maybe because someone had to call emergency services when little Timmy fell from the top, and hit all the tiers on the way down?

Vintage playgrounds from 1940 at Click Americana - General Playground Equipment Inc (1)

28. A 1950s triangle-style climbing structure for kids

A 1950s triangle-style climbing structure for kids


29. The Barrel of Fun: Another piece of old-school playground equipment that Darwined itself out of existence (1929)

Barrel of fun? More like a barrel leading to breaks and bumps and bruises.

Old playground equipment from 1929 (1)

30. Ring swings on old-fashioned playgrounds (1924)

We love the kid hanging upside down (she’s clearly having fun) but also hope recovery went well after one foot inevitably got stuck in a ring.

1924 - old playground

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31. Getting a little crazy (1940)

You don’t often see these pieces of old-fashioned playground equipment much today — at least not used as shown here, bare feet and all. (And how did the kid in the flying rings get into that position?! Or back out of it?)

From 1940 - old playground heavy-duty outdoor gymnasium (3)

From 1940 - old playground heavy-duty outdoor gymnasium (1)

32. Upside down

We see what the equipment is, but we’re still not sure what this one kid is doing… or why.

Vintage old playground fun from 1911 (1)


33. Teeter Ladders

This old piece — which looks kind of like giant knitting needles — functioned like a teeter-totter, except you hung on from below instead of sitting on it. (An antique Spalding catalog called it a “Teeter Ladder.”)

Dangerous old-fashioned playgrounds from the twenties (5)

Vintage old playground fun from 1911 - Teeter ladders

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34. Whirl-Over Swings

This one looks like it might be one of the smallest Ferris Wheels ever.

Antique playground equipment from the 1920s (1)

35. Rocking out

This piece of old playground equipment was called a “Rocking Boat.” We really hope it never capsized.

Old playground equipment and fun for kids from the 1920s (4)

36. Hang on, everyone!

Here’s a different style of old-school boat swing.

Vintage playground ship swing c1920s

Say, Say, Oh Playmate: We traced the story of this old song and hand clapping game, and have the lyrics

37. Ready to launch into the stratosphere?

Was the above photo too tame? Then check out these people in the 1920s taking it to the next level.

Dangerous playground - old-school boat swing going high

38. The Louden Swing-Bob

“A delightful device for the smaller children, particularly, and one that is thoroughly safe.

“It swings backward and forward with a sweeping and slightly rising and dipping motion that the children like — set in motion by the riders themselves, by pulling and pushing against the supporting arms.”

Old playground equipment from the 20s - The Louden Swing Bob

ALSO SEE: Rolling hoops used to be the coolest toys around

39. It’s like a bicycle built for eight (1940)

This one was new to us… which means it was either incredibly unpopular, or created so many injuries that it was made to disappear.

The concept was like other spinners with kid-powered motion, except this required the boys and girls to make it move by using the pedals.

Bicycle playground toy from 1940

40. Tree climb (1929)

This is basically a fancy name for three ten-foot ladders stuck together. I mean, how much fun, right?

Old playground equipment from 1929 (2)

ALSO SEE: Wonder horses! See vintage ride-on spring horse toys from the ’50s to the ’80s


41. Standing room only?

Looks like they were having a busy day at the Zabriskie Playground in Jersey City, New Jersey back in 1910 or so.

Dangerous old-fashioned playgrounds from the twenties (3)

Here’s the wading pool at the playground above… with chains through the middle.

Vintage dangerous old playgrounds with a pool and chains c1920s

42. That’s… not how a slide works. (1920s)

Old playground equipment and fun for kids from the 1920s (13)

43. Really, it’s not. (1942)

Nursery school playground. Robstown camp, Texas 1942


44. Oh, look – it’s an instant burn device! (1940)

For real: On sunny days, and without shade, temperatures on these metal slides could get up past 160 degrees. 

Vintage playgrounds from 1940 at Click Americana - General Playground Equipment Inc (3)

45. Three hot metal slides, all in a row (1950)

Steel playground equipment from 1950 at Click Americana (2)

46. The 35-foot ride on a spiral slide (1940)

Spiral slide from 1940

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47. Old-school playground equipment created for “bending the twig”

“Take average children, brimful of the primal instinct to develop through play, provide for them proper playgrounds fitted with modern playground equipment; and tomorrow, they will step forth vigorous, healthy, clear-thinking men and women — to make the world a better place to live in.”

Antique playground equipment from the 1920s - Bending the twig

Indeed — in part, they made it a better place by replacing some of this scary old playground equipment — like the slideless slides and the spinning barrels — with what has evolved into the brightly-colored plastic playgrounds of today.

Colorful playground on yard in the park.
Photo by Sarayuth Nutteepratoom | Dreamstime.com

Some may not call that progress… but anyone who does probably can’t say so without some degree of bias. After all, we are the lucky ones.

Whether by luck or by logic, our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents made it through childhood.

The thousands of people who didn’t survive the playgrounds of yesteryear, though, aren’t here to remind us how good we really do have it here in the 21st century. ⦿

PS: If you liked this article, please share it! You can also get our free newsletter, follow us on Facebook & Pinterest. Thanks for visiting and for supporting a small business! 🤩 


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Comments on this story

56 Responses

  1. It’s interesting though when you look at all the children in the photos they are all smiling! I grew up with metal slides and steel jungle gyms and I was just fine. This article should be about the history of the playground, not your own opinion of how dangerous you “think” they were. You probably weren’t even there, so how would you know. You just took a bunch of old photos of kids playing happily and turned it into an article of “complaint”. Shame on you. As a reporter you are not supposed to be subjective, only objective.

    1. Thanks for your feedback, and I’m sorry you didn’t like this article content.

      First, though, it’s important to note that on this site, I am not a news reporter — I am a curator, editor, feature writer, and historical researcher. As such, I am entitled to an opinion.

      Yes, many of the kids are smiling, and no doubt were having a lot of fun! But that doesn’t negate the premise of the story. It’s a fact — not just what I think — that many injuries were caused by old playground equipment. How would I know? I did a lot of research, and also spent plenty of time on hot slides and huge jungle gyms. I do think, however, that there is a reason playground safety has evolved over time (although, of course, injuries still happen today).

      This article may be worth a skim: The Fallacy of the ‘I Turned Out Fine’ Argument: You didn’t use seatbelts when you were growing up and you lived to tell about it? That doesn’t make it a good parenting strategy.

      I agree that an article about the history of the playground would be a good thing to have on the site — but that is not what this story was intended to be. This piece was meant to be a lighthearted look back — with an introduction and conclusion that made my own perspectives clear.

      And while I appreciate your perspective, and hear your argument, I absolutely do not appreciate you telling me “shame on you.” I have done nothing remotely shameful, and honestly don’t understand why you’re so angry at a stranger about an article topic that may have some degree of personal meaning to you, but is not actually about you or your choices, past or present.

      – Nancy Price, founder/owner/editor/writer/creator – ClickAmericana.com

      1. To be fair, playgrounds changed because of a lawsuit in the early 70s. And there’s a lot of research to indicate that the current plastic playgrounds are actually stifling childhood creativity because they’re so “canned” (you can drive across the country and note that most of the playgrounds are the same five or so “models” made by the same few companies).

      2. Great article! I thoroughly enjoyed sharing this with a friend. The photos made us reminisce and laugh about some good times on “questionable” pieces of the equipment from our own hometown playgrounds.

      3. Best response ever! Your article was extremely well-researched and well-written. It wasn’t a huge “downer” nor did it dwell exclusively on the negative aspects of the equipment; it was well-balanced but, of course, being that it is a piece about DANGEROUS equipment, is going to discuss **dangerous** equipment.
        To attempt to shame someone for having an opinion is ridiculous! Just like you said, this article wasn’t about OP and doesn’t effect her. Furthermore, just because something makes someone appear happy doesn’t make it “safe”. Heroin, for example, commonly produces very euphoric effects in it’s users; were you to write a piece on the dangers of heroin, I hardly doubt readers would admonish you for minimizing the joy experienced by addicts as doing so would be rather ludacrus!! Just saying!

        Thanks again for a great article.

    2. Wow

      So because “YOU” played on this equipment and were ‘just fine’, EVERYONE who played on it walked away uninjured? Sorry lady, just because it didn’t happen to you, or in front of you, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen fairly regularly to others.

      Shame on YOU, miss know-it-all.

      Also, if you didn’t like the subject matter, feel free to write an article that is more pleasing to you. Don’t be surprised however, if the comments section is full of people talking about how dangerous that old equipment was.

      You might even get someone who disagrees with your subject matter and strongly thinks your article should be about all the injuries kids suffered from playing on that old equipment.

      1. The playground equipment taught us to be more thoughtful and to think at least one step ahead. A broken bone or strained muscle served as a leaning tool for the next time we were on the structure. Those jungle gyms taught us about the values and dangers of freedom.

        I’m happy to enjoy my tasty, entre of liberty, served upon a pewter platter, alongside a condiment dish of absolute treachery.

      2. Sorry, Ronald, in the words of the immortal Brad Upton, “Know what happened to the dumb ones? They didn’t make it.”

        Natural selection was alive and well until it began being gradually legislated away in the 1970s.

        Just be glad you slipped through the cracks.

      3. I am 80 years young, we used to play on this playground equipment and sure there were a few injuries, usually minor, but we simply got past ti and were ready to go back on the equipment, we weren’t scared of our shadow, and babied like kids are today, and parents, and teachers did not freak out over minor things like they do today! We also received spankings from the Principle if we did something bad enough to get sent to the office, and we were assigned homework, and the curriculum was much more indepth than it is today!

    3. I grew up with those also,they were great fun. Surely better than teaching kids to have fun playing on a computer doing video games.

  2. Great compilation! Well done, and very interesting to read. I stumbled on this when looking into a piece of vintage playground equipment that myself and others were discussing on a Facebook group for our hometown. We had always called it “the ding dongs” but I see it is actually called a “Giant Stride.” It was there until maybe the early 1980s, along with metal baby swings that must have weighed 20lbs each! Survival of the fittest I guess…

  3. This article was great! I run a memory program for aging seniors and they LOVE to talk about the playgrounds from the old days. They often say with a smile, “I don’t know how we survived.” The heights. The burning slides. They survived and so did the boomers after. And we even drank water from the garden hose.

    Thank you!

    1. My father built a giant stride for me in my backyard. Late 1950s early 1960s. One of my favorite childhood memories. My teenage brothers would push me so high my feet were horizontal to the ground. I remember having the rope break more than once, landing face down and getting all the wind knocked out of me. I would be right back at it again once I caught my breath. No serious injuries. Why was it considered so dangerous? I agree that outside play taught you self reliance. Video games can’t do that. Kids are overprotected today. We think the world is more dangerous now, but really it’s just more publicized. I was punished by being grounded. I punish my grandchildren by putting them outside. They are mostly afraid to leave the yard.

  4. Fun set of pictures, thanks! I’d love to see the 50s-70s offerings, too. Still dangerous, but smaller, single sets, not these big communal ones.

    With 7 kids in my family growing up on the equipment we had only 2 ER injuries, my older brother falling off the monkey bars and breaking an arm at 5, and me breaking a nose at 7 by flying off a 60s swing set glider (riding it on my belly). I always wonder why we pass around the, “your grandparents didn’t need seatbelts” meme. You can survive serious burns, doesn’t mean they’re safe.

  5. I grew up with these playgrounds and certainly survived–but looking at them now–wow! I do think kids are too wrapped up in bubble wrap today. Skinned knees and bruises only last a while.

  6. I remember the jungle gym in the first grade, at lease once a week this one girl would hang upside down about six off the ground. All girls wore skirts to school then, the teachers would freak, take her inside, give her a couple of swats and make her stay inside for the rest of the day. To me the staying inside was the worst part, but then the next week she would do it again.

  7. It is hard to believe children would get very much exercise on the “plastic” equipment pictured above let alone have much fun. When it was very hot, we sat on an old towel or rag of some sort and to keep it slick we sat on a waxy bread wrapper or some waxed paper before sliding down. Would that work on the “plastic” slide to make it slicker?
    I loved the merry-go-round, (even when I fell while pushing it), and the swings. They were flat boards, on long chains, that you could jump from at the apex of your swing. And a teeter-totter was as much fun to walk, or run, up and then down, as it was to actually use it correctly.
    When the girls hung by their knees on a bar no one could see anything but clothing. I entered school at age 5, in 1939, and most girls in the country school wore bloomers made out of flour sacks. Covered as much as shorts under dresses do now. No slacks then. At age 85 I still enjoy most of the modern day carnival rides but the swing sets on playgrounds are not comfortable because of the type of seats they have.
    I found this article because I am doing research for my memoirs encompassing 1934 through 2020. It is slow going, but interesting to be reminded of so much.

    1. Just wanted to say your comment sounds very cool. I believe my grandmother was born five years after you but I never got the chance to hear many stories about her childhood because she died of heart disease in 2014. But it’s cool to hear about these sort of things every now and then because I’m really curious of what it was like to use those playgrounds. I’m 18 as of now, but they look fun!

  8. HAHAHAHA! O dear Lord those playgrounds were killer! I remember nearly getting horizontal and using centrifugal force it’s amazing no one was killed, do recall a few injuries. We had a blast had no idea the danger we were exposed to…and yes, drinking from water hoses!! Tail end of the BOOMERS here am so glad I didnt miss the adventure! Outstanding photos! Have been trying to explain the chain ladders circling the pole ( were rope ladders in the Chicago Park District in the ’60’s) to my children they could NOT imagine anyone allowing those! (Millenniums lol)


    1. The big problem with wood log play equipment is that it rots within a relatively short period of time — making it not only dangerous and unstable, but expensive to repair. It’s even worse if the wood is cheap and not cured properly.

  10. This article was so fun to read and I love the pictures! Thanks! I was trying to describe 21 and 22 to my kids and to my surprise I was spot-on with the description when I found the pictures here. I was laughing because on my birthday park outing I got hit in the forehead with the end of one of these and vividly remember the goose egg. Still my most favorite memories are from that park and especially that swing. I had 5 big brothers so I am sure I flew plenty!!

  11. Thank you for the pictures. There is some research showing that contemporary playgrounds are so “safe” that children are injured trying to eke out risk from them. Risky play is important for child development. Certainly, we don’t want to go back in time to the unsupervised barrel but neither do we want to insulate children from all risk-or fun. At “Adventure Playgrounds” the goal is: “as safe as necessary” not “as safe as possible.” This an idea that is more conducive to learning.

  12. KIds were definitely stronger and tougher back then. Eventually modern playgrounds will be little more than big piles of pillows.

  13. Do you go outside? Many of these still exist where I live (Australia), and many countries I’ve visited. The ones that I don’t see now definitely existed when I was a kid 15 years ago. Quit trying to be ultra dramatic and pretend it’s so foreign.

    1. Do I go outside? Why, yes. Yes, I do. And while the title may be slightly dramatic, many of these do NOT exist here in the US anymore, and haven’t for at least 25 years. Since this site is all about Americana, it seems fair enough to reflect the history and perspectives of Americans, does it not?

    2. This site is Click Americana which clearly implies (well, actually, it STATES DIRECTLY) that the site is about AMERICAN culture.
      I’ve “gone outside” every single day for 41 years – that’s over 15,000 days – and have never, not even ONCE seen any equipment like this! My mother, who is in her early 70’s, has gone outside over 30,000K days and she has never once seen equipment like this either.

      Why is that? Because we are AMERICAN! We don’t have this type of playground equipment in America so it’s not simply a matter of “not going outside”.

      While YOU may have seen such playground equipment, many of us have not because we are in the USA, and it hasn’t existed here, for the most part, in decades. It isn’t “being dramatic” to state we don’t have this type of playground equipment here, in AMERICA, the only country this site is relevant to – it is simply a fact that those pieces aren’t used here and haven’t been since the late 1930’s except for few and far between. Get over your rude, condescending, self-righteous self….not everything is about YOU!!!

  14. Would be more interesting if the names of equipment were mentioned. For example, the Giant Stride was pretty common, but its name is only visible in the caption for one of the old photos. Also, FYI, many of the crowded photos of kids sitting astride slides and atop monkey bars are actually group photos. It was common to pose like that for class photos or group photos.

    I read a fascinating article from the Atlantic a few years ago called The Overprotected Kid that there are actually more playground injuries today than pre-1980s because kids had to learn to be more careful when playing on concrete and asphalt. But, at least the injuries on playgrounds today are minor.

  15. It’s fascinating to look at the old playgrounds and how adventurous they were. Today’s playgrounds by comparison seem sterile- safe, but boring as heck.

    Perhaps today’s children are being deprived of important lessons. Sure, we don’t want playgrounds so dangerous they regularly cause injury, but, at the same time, is not life about using your freedom and taking individual risks?

    Should others be held liable for accidents if people CHOOSE to go to the playground? Are we teaching kids that others are responsible for what they do? Even back then was anyone being forced to participate?

    Of course, if you’re a parent it’s understandable to want to keep your kids safe. At the same time, can we really protect kids from every danger or risk? In my view, it is good that playgrounds are safer now but there are drawbacks to not allowing for the freedom of individual risk-taking.

  16. I’m glad I stumbled across this site while searching for something else!
    I’m 73 years old and recognize some of these, although many are from my grandparents time. I spent many happy hours on playground equipment like jungle gyms, swings, teeter-totters, maypoles, and merry-go-rounds.
    One type of merry-go-round (roundabout) was where there was a circular rotating bench with a stationary wheel in the middle. You pulled on the wheel to spin the bench, and boy, could you really spin fast! I remember being thrown off of a merry-go-round many times, and learning how to fall properly to avoid injury.
    Sadly, I never had the chance to play on some of the mega-playgrounds shown.
    Interestingly, I find it somewhat ironic that many people I talk with who are avid Darwinists are also staunchly against any type of playground equipment that could possibly injure a child in any way whatsoever. So much for survival of the fittest.
    Thank you, Click Americana, for creating this very interesting page.

  17. I used to play on a swing set that had two swings that spun around a center pole. Two people would ride and a third would grab one of the swings inner chain and spin the swings by pulling from the center pole. Haven’t seen one of them for decades. Super fun!

  18. To be honest I rarely see kids play on the “modern” playgrounds. They would rather find a nice ditch and play with some bricks and wooden lats than slide down the 5 feet plastic slides twice in a row. And whenever they do use them they use them in their own risky ways – like climbing on the roofs above the slide tops. I’m 20 and I clearly remember being a kid and playing on a super tall climbring structure with my friends and it was absolutely fantastic. They replaced it with a tiny, useless version of itself. Now more kids go play on construction sites, because modern playgrounds offer no stimulation physically or creativity-wise when used “correctly”.

    1. I agree! My daughter is 19, the city had amazing talk metal jungle gyms she played on at 1 years plus dramatically. Now no kid plays on the low down, uninspiring plastic junk. I was heartbroken that they took away these amazing, inspiring to children, creations of imagination and fitness!, whose idea was this? It happened in about 2018.. I was shocked they removed these huge wonderful inspirations that could be islands, space ships, “my house”, jungles, you name it! My little girl was so healthy, had muscles climbing and swinging and hanging on these things!

  19. How interesting! I’m on a Village council here in the UK and in the process of updating one of our play areas. Many of the items in your list still exist in the UK and Europe! Yes, there are fall limits and specifications for surfaces and safety is very important, but encouraging age appropriate risk taking is still an important part of playground provision. The modern Witches Hat (called the ocean wave here) are really, really popular as are the spinners (we call them Gally Spins)! We are trying see if we can afford a rope jungle gym nearly 10 metres high (33foot?).

    1. Awesome!! Risk-taking, and their associated skills, are so vital to children’s development. Glad to see they’re still in use somewhere.

  20. Growing up in Kansas in the 60’s and 70’s, most of these pieces were still around. Almost every town or city park had swings, teeter totters, a jungle gym, monkey bars, horizontal bars (for the girls to do knee spins on), one or two or more steel “slippery slides” (what we called them) (and yes, they did get hot!). About half had some kind of spinner. Our grade school playground had a spinner that could go so fast no one could stay on it. The climax to each day’s recess was to see who could stay on the longest – with 4 or 5 kids spinning it! The only accident more serious than a scrape that I ever heard of was someone fell from the top of the slippery slide and broke their arm. One of my favorite stunts was to climb one of the 12′ tall pipes on the swing set and sit on top. And when you were swinging, if you swung too high, you would get this tremendous jolt as the chains slackened and then went taught again as you fell vertically back into the swing seat. Actually, that was great fun too!

    We also learned all about physics while having fun on those playgrounds: inertia, momentum, potential energy, centrifugal force, the effect of gravity on a free body, what happens when two objects collide, the principal that a moving body will tend to continue in a straight line unless some force acts on it, and just how much sand on a hot slippery slide will allow you to go the fastest, etc. etc.!

    1. I’m from Kansas City, Missouri and like you, I was a child of the 70s and we grew up on the same playground you mention here, and it was such fun, fun! Falling and scraping my knees I would never give back the memories, I felt alive and free! I love your memories.

  21. I remember merry go rounds that would go so fast that when the big kid pushed it around you would vomit like a sprinkler as it went around the spray now hiting the big kid My mom said to him you should have known better , she also would kick off big kids off the swing calling them a swing bully’s at home In playing Superman I would jump off the garage roof when my knee hit me in the nose i learned to keep my knees apart also I did a back flip off the pool I hit the my head on the coping I saw a kid jump from trampoline to trampoline missing the jump short only to jump between the springs ouch you publish stories of dare devil kids and how they survived You can have mine to share let me know I played chicken at the roller rink skating backwards with someone then collide with him because I wasn’t chicken he drove his roller skates over my face My wife was crying I said why are you crying I won !!! As I went to the hospital to stitch up my eye

  22. Those tall metal slides were still around in the ’80s. That’s one reason why we always wore blue jeans when going to the park.

    I remember playing on a ’60s era rocket slide back then too. On this particular one, you entered an oval shaped hole and climed up through the center of the rocket. It was a skinny metal tube with a steel ladder welded to the inside. Once up top, you exited the tube through another oval shaped hole and could walk around a circular platform that went around the outside of the rocket till you got to the slide. Except for a short metal wall surrounding the platform, it was all open on top. A kid could easily climb out and hang off the side (which we sometimes did!) I don’t know how tall it was, but I remember thinking that if I fell off it, I would probably end up breaking something. The slide itself spiraled around the structure and the sliding surface of it looked like 1/2 inch metal tubes welded together. I once took refuge in that structure while having to walk home from school in a snowstorm.

  23. This article was great! I run a memory program for aging seniors and they LOVE to talk about the playgrounds from the old days. They often say with a smile, “I don’t know how we survived.” The heights. The burning slides. They survived and so did the boomers after. And we even drank water from the garden hose.

  24. The most dangerous thing about metal play equipment is that it got scorching hot in the summer — especially the slides. However, we had a solution to the problem; us boys would take our shirts off and slide down on our shirts. Unfortunately that option wasn’t available to the girls…

    Another, more serious problem — then and now — is when play equipment is allowed to fall into disrepair. In the early 90s we lived in a community that had a park with a log playset, and one of the logs had rotted away. One day, when my daughter and some friends were playing, one of the smaller boys fell through the space where the log had been, and his head got stuck. The other kids acted quickly, though, and pulled him up — possibly saving his life. The next week, that piece of play equipment was replaced.

  25. This brings back good and bad memories, grew up in England and then Canada in 50’s and 60’s. My friends and I would swing so high and hard the swing frame would start to come out of the ground. Two pieces of equipment I would avoid was the merry go round, you would all jump on and of course one big kid would just keep it going around and around till you puked! The other was the teeter totter. I was a small kid, and the person at the other end was always heavier than me and would keep me up in the air threatening me that they would jump off and let me bang back down to earth. That happened once almost ended me becoming a women, LOL!. But I survived. Still like a good swing in my 70’s. This was a fun read.

  26. My father fell off a jungle gym in about 1941 and injured his knee. That injury has aggravated him his entire life.

  27. Some chilling ideas for children’s “fun” here! The “Jungle Gym” was still the most common name for the metal apparatus found in parks and school “recess” areas in the 1960s, all metal. We also had the rings and tall swing sets (which were fun) from which most boys would compete to see who could “launch” and fly the farthest. Most areas had that wonderful “tree bark” surface which cushioned the fall but made for really hot & dry conditions. We also had a long metal slide (which got really fast when kids used the wax paper used to wrap sandwiches on it!) and standard pull-up bars. The worst example was in Jr. High when kids all had to climb the wooden pegboard or burlap rope up to the 50 ft ceiling. It was so high that it smelled musty up there! Lots of injuries from falls, and just like the TV shows, if we could walk, the coach would say “walk it off”.

    1. I remember burlap climbing ropes in gym class. :( Most kids (including myself) couldn’t do it. But there were always one or two jocks who could do it with ease and show off. And there were always those kids who seemed to enjoy getting rope burns when they slid down.

  28. I broke my right arm on a “Witches Hat” when I was 10 or 11 in 1956-57. It was great fun and we learned to hang on. They made kids tough and coordinated and even 10 year Olds knew better than to go down a metal slide when it was 80° outside and in the sun. Perhaps this is the reason the Greatest Generation won WWII… we were tough and not afraid of anything. Today’s playgrounds are just engineered to avoid lawsuits…has nothing to do with exercising the child. Great article! Thanks for the memories.

  29. I remember playing on the Jungle Gym AND ‘Splinter Delivery System,’ but both were miles better than today’s mania for bubble-wrapping your kids and sticking them in front of a TV.

  30. I was brought up with many of these playground rides, and Kids today that come
    over have the same experience. Down below at my home at the pond area, I built
    a vintage park. Tall Swing, 2 Merry-go-Rounds, Metal Slide, Stage Coach, Teeter
    Totters, and a Global Monkey Bars. Despite one Kid once falling off the top of the
    slide, never had any serious injuries. Just loads of Fun..

  31. haha. fun article! we swung/spun on a swing bob in 1965 Waunakee Wi. a hoot!
    we also played floor hockey on knees swinging lead pipes with all our might.
    glad to get some exercise. Glad playgrounds are safer.

  32. I miss some considerations in this discussion
    Unlike in our days, where we want thrills from a theme park freefall tower but sue the park if that causes us a heart attack, life was more simple back some decades.
    Unlike playgrounds of today, which are mainly for the smallest kids, children and youths got something to do.
    these things partially resemble entire rides from theme parks, often requiring bigger (supervising) youths or adults to even set them into motion.
    These things trained and build strenght and coordination. provided opportunity for activity.
    zombie kids these days shovel tons of sugar and walk with their phone. I remember there used to be a dangerously high climbing platform like a house, a ladder with unneccessarily (unsafe) small steps led up there. It taught me how to estimate what i can do and what was dangerous to do in life. In other words, these things prepared former generations for life, learning us responsibility and respect and cooperative activity. todays world is rather designed like a psychic ward cell. cant harm yourself bumping into anything, nothing to grab, nothing to climb – nothing to do. All for insurance reasons , all because nobody WANTS or is WILLING to take responsibility for the fellow. A farce of safety. since an environment like our present reality drives you mentally nuts. Resulting in children who do not estimate the harm they inflict upon others in boredom. A world not sane is a world in which the damage / incident has already occured.

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