vintage, nostalgia and memories


February 24, 2017

How We Came to Play: Pictures of Kids Enjoy Dangerous Playgrounds in the Early 20th Century

Do the word “playgrounds” bring back some fun childhood memories? What did you like the most about the playground?

On warm spring evenings, blustery fall afternoons, and sticky summer days, when nostalgia and memories brush past you, where does your mind go? Where did you spend many hours as a school-age child? For most of us it was a playground, whether climbing the playground equipment or running circles on the athletic field, letting our imaginations take us anywhere and everywhere.

Yet this was not always the case. Children of the 19th century didn’t have formal playgrounds. Originating as “sand gardens” in Germany in 1885, the beginnings of playgrounds appeared in the United States in Boston in 1886. And until the turn of the 20th century, playgrounds remained uncommon in public spaces.

But as industrialization and urbanization grew, so did the concern for public welfare. Humanitarians saw playgrounds as the solution to cramped quarters, poor air quality, and social isolation. This new concept could keep children off the dangerous streets and help them develop their physical health, good habits, socialization skills, and the pleasure of being a child.

Playground in Dallas, Texas, early 1900s.

Children’s playground, Belle Isle Park, Detroit, Michigan, ca. 1900-1905.

Girls’ playground, Harriet Island, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1905.

Broadway playfield, 1910.

Children in swings, Hamilton Fish Park, New York.

Rings and poles, Bronx Park, New York, 1911.

Playground in New York, ca. 1910-1915.

Hiawatha playground, 1912.

Czech-American children, climbing on monkey bars in Central Park playground. 1942.

(Images: Library of Congress)

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