Playgrounds of Yesterday

Following up yesterday’s Preservation Photos #25 post, which featured the Giant Stride, here’s a glance at other unique playground equipment from the early 20th century. Of course there are many sources with great photographs and information, so consider this a sampling.

First, a search through the Library of Congress digital records always provides good entertainment:

Another Giant Stride (or is it a may pole?) - at a playground in New York City, ca. 1910-1915. Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division (click).

Merry-go-round, ca. 1918-1920. Source: Library of Congress Prints & Photographs (click).

A playground apparatus that reminds me of a merry-go-round and a giant stride combined. Source: Library of Congress (click).

A children's city playground. Source: Library of Congress Prints & Photographs (click).

Seesaw, 1902, in Chicago, IL. Source: American Memory, LOC (click).

With the digital world taking over, Flickr is a wonderful resource as well. People share their own images as well as scanning in magazines, advertisements, etc. By searching for “playground” in the uploads or the “playground” groups, you will find some awesome images. Most of it will be mid 20th century, not ca. 1910 or 1920, but it’s fascinating in a different way. Check out the sets by Nels_P_Olsen on Flickr for images of vintage defunct and surviving playgrounds.

Part of the 1975 Miracle Equipment Company playground catalog. Click and scan through the other pages. Source: Nels_P_Olsen.

More from the Miracle Playground Equipment catalog. I include this one for my sisters and our friends at Norwood Elementary: that thing we always called the spider web -- apparently it's a geodesic dome (note bottom). Source: Nels_P_Olsen, flickr (click).

For more, try the “old playground furniture” group. See also this August 26, 2009 “Playgrounds” post from PiP.

How’s that, Erin? Enough to hold you over? I’ll post more in the future. When you’re out exploring, be sure to let me know of any great old playgrounds! Let’s go build a giant stride in the backyard for now.


15 thoughts on “Playgrounds of Yesterday

  1. Erin says:

    Ha yess! All of those were awesome! I’ll definitely look out for crazy playground equipment on my adventures, but for now I’m totally up for building our own Giant Stride…or Miracle Sputnik 😮

  2. Shirley Jones says:

    I realize the article about ‘giant stride’ playground equipment is almost two years old. However, I just found it for the first time and wanted to tell you that, when I was just starting school about 1937, we had a giant stride in the school yard. This was in Perrin, Jack County, Texas. We would get the giant stride turning as fast as we could and then take ‘giant leaps’ through lthe air. It seemed like we were flying.

  3. Heather R (@dolleygurl) says:

    Wonderful post. My neighbor actually somehow saved one of these old merry-go-rounds that they were removing from a park or playground and now has it at his house for his kids. Even us adults love playing on it. Sure these old school playground pieces could have been dangerous, but we knew how to have fun!

  4. Blosser says:

    I went to elementary school in Adna, Washington. We had a ‘Giant Stride’ on our playground, though as I recall, we called it “Giant Strikes” – but Giant Stride makes more sense. I can remember everyone but one standing close to the post with their handles, and one person wrapping their chain over the top of everyone elses. Then when we would start running around in a circle, the ‘rider’ would fly out over top of everyone else. This would have been 1956 to 1961 or so. It was like a flying trapeze!

      • Julie says:

        Does anyone know what the thing was called that held up to 4 kids; (2 across from each other) you sat on it and by pushing with your feet and pulling with your hands, it would go around like a merry-go-round? I was thinking Swing Glide? But that google search doesn’t bring it up…

  5. karen ruth says:

    I grew up in western Michigan and my elementary school had a Giant Strides of sorts, but instead of ropes, there were chains which ended in three bars making two “holes”. You could either just hold onto the two bars or put your arm through one of the holes. Man, with a bunch of kids running and leaping, we could fly and swing our legs around in the air for an even longer off-the-ground ride. It was fantastic! We also had a HUGE metal slide, LARGE wooden-seated swings which were hung by interconnecting metal bars (not chains), the biggest conical bell-shaped merry-go-round with a wooden “skirt” that you could sit or STAND on…..and no one EVER sued…. Those were the days, my friend!

    • Kaitlin says:

      That sounds like a great playground. I think those merry-go-rounds you described were often called a “witch’s hat”. My elementary school had a huge metal slide, too, but it’s long gone (and that was the early 1990s). I’m so glad more and more people are sharing playground memories here. 🙂

  6. Michael Monson says:

    I remember a giant stride that we had at our school in northern Minnesota. It was fun for everyone. Once or twice a year everyone would buy some peanuts from the local grocery store and on a prearranged signal everyone would throw some at the teacher. Then everyone would gather up the peanuts, teacher would get some, we would eat some for a bit and everyone would resume their studies. Two room school house in a small town, population about 50 people. Life was different back then.

  7. Carly chichester says:

    What about the “merry-go-rounds’ that had four tractor like seats, pedals for your feet, and a handle that you held on to and pumped the hell outta those things to get REALLY whirling around? What generations of cotton wool wrapped little wimps have been raised since the late 60s, early 70s!!!!!

  8. Ren says:

    I was born in 87. So, I’m a 90s kid and by the time I was 10 or so they were starting to get rid of all the fun IE: dangerous playground equipment where I live. I do remember Merry-Go-Rounds when I was young. Loved them. But, I never did have the pleasure of seeing a giant stride around here.

    I swear. Even at 27. If I ever see another Merry-Go-Round in my life. It is my goal to ride it until I puke.

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