The History of the Playground

Fun Stuff  |  5 years ago

The History of the Playground

Nowadays, playgrounds are something we take for granted as a place for kids to run around and let off steam, but when they were first introduced in the U.S., they were part of a major reform movement to improve the lives of poor children.

Simple swings have been enjoyed since the time of the ancient Greeks, but playground equipment that would be more familiar to our current time only began to appear during the late 19th and early 20th century. The term "jungle gym" was trademarked in 1920 and jungle gym climbers along with multi-position swing sets became commonplace in public areas through the 30s and 40s.

In the U.S., playgrounds for children were originally conceived of as a way to get poor children in urban areas literally off the streets which, in crowded slum areas, were the only space they had to play.

In the latter part of the 1800's a national reform movement began which included a series of policies designed to protect children in the labor force and to support schools, playgrounds, and kindergartens. Due to the reform movement, the urban landscape of the inner city became the focus of philanthropists and local governments. Supervised playgrounds were placed into slum areas for their value in reforming the young child. 

The first playgrounds which came about in the 1880s and 1890s were called Sand Gardens. They were basically giant sandboxes - piles of sand dumped in empty lots. It may not sound that great to modern sensibilities, but they were places where children could safely and freely play, and they were a big hit.

These were phased out, or shrunk to modern sandbox size, as “Model Playgrounds” became popular around the turn of the century. Model Playgrounds featured tall structures built of steel tubes, with high-flying swings, merry-go-rounds, and other twirling contraptions. Such playgrounds were attractive to both children and adults as the equipment allowed people to soar to great heights and twirl at dizzying speeds, but they would be a playground inspector’s nightmare today, with incredibly dangerous equipment.

Eventually, modern playgrounds morphed into standardized playgrounds featuring hard plastic play equipment with rounded edges, an obvious response to the death-defying playgrounds of earlier decades.

Now, playgrounds come with a variety of features and themes and equipment can be made from all different materials from metal or vinyl to wood. The best playground designers focus not just on the play equipment itself but on the whole playscape creating a flowing environment of varying equipment and terrain that fosters active play for children as educators and child development experts acknowledge the critical importance of active and imaginative free play for a child’s social, emotional, and motor development.

CedarWorks Commercial Outdoor Playsets with their beautiful design and playful features, fit well into today’s modern playscapes. 

"History of Playgrounds" City of Charlottesville
"The dangerous playgrounds of 1900s"

Photo credit
Library of Congress