The History of Playgrounds: From The 19th Century to Now

The History of Playgrounds: From The 19th Century to Now

            How Did Playgrounds Evolve to What We Know Today?

For many of us, most of our early memories involve a playground. Who can forget the rush felt when sliding down a slide or swinging on a swing for the first time? In 2022, playgrounds are often something that we take for granted. So where did these strongholds of children’s memories come from?

Children of the 19th century didn’t have formal playgrounds, and instead played in “sand gardens” in Germany and the United States around 1886. Until the turn of the 20th century, many public spaces did not have playgrounds.

As industrialization and urbanization grew, so did the concern for public welfare. Many people saw outdoor playgrounds as the solution to many of the issues children were facing, such as cramped quarters, poor air quality, and social isolation. This concept would keep children off the dangerous streets, and help them to develop their physical health, good habits, socialization skills, and the pleasure of being a child.

The Playground Association of America

In 1906, the Playground Association of America formed to promote ideas of playgrounds to communities, including benefits, construction, layout & design, and the conduct and activities to occur on playgrounds. These playgrounds did look different, they were not free-form. People were trained as instructors to teach children some lessons and to organize their play. These lessons would include equipment lessons, parades, theatre productions, and other activities.

Early apparatuses slowly began to become to fashion. These sets were built with galvanized steel pipes, strikingly vertical and horizontal elements, ladders, and chains. All of these elements would be considered dangerous by today’s standards. As these apparatuses aged, they were replaced with newer designs and equipment. Materials changed to include earthen materials, concrete, wood, and plastics.

The history of playgrounds is very long and convoluted. After the apparatuses, and the Depression and War Efforts had ended, playgrounds became Adventure or Junk Playgrounds. These were playgrounds designed to produce an adventure, by going through caves, over landscaped, building elements using found objects. There was not much supervision on these playgrounds, and they were most popular through the 1940’s and 1950s.

Playgrounds After the War

Following the awesome adventure playgrounds, we started to see an increase of Novelty Playgrounds, or playgrounds with a theme. Think rocket ships, slides, animal shapes, imaginative tunnels, and shapes. These playgrounds were still made of metal and were most popular in the 1950s to the 1970s.

            At the tail end of the 1970s, Standardized Playgrounds were becoming popular. These are playgrounds with rounded edges and hard plastic equipment. These specific playgrounds were a response to concerns over playground safety. These standardized playgrounds led to the safe modern playgrounds we have today.