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Sliding Into Summer: Playground Equipment of Old

June 14, 2023

I have fond memories of the times spent on our family’s swing set and playing on playgrounds in my hometown as well as those in the places we visited. Those fond memories, thankfully, do not include the feeling of terror that I appear to be experiencing as I go down the slide of our new swing set at the age of two and a half or so in 1981, shared above.

Ocean Wave in use, ca. 1920, Indiana Historical Society, P0004 (cropped)

As I look through the IHS image collections, I typically see joy on the faces of the children enjoying playground equipment. While the fun they are having makes me happy, it is not surpassed by the fear I have looking at the contraptions that were commonplace in the parks of yesteryear. These pieces of equipment look as though they could cause serious bodily harm with one quick slip or careless use. This concern probably stems from the worries of motherhood and would not likely exist were I still a child.

View of children waiting for an American “Coaster” Style Slide, 1918. Indiana Historical Society, P0173

Some of the equipment is reminiscent of the pieces I had access to during my 1980s childhood. Slides of my youth were metal, burning hot in the sun and freezing in the cold. I recall them being much faster than the slides found on many of today’s playgrounds. While I do occasionally stumble upon an old-style slide still in use, they have become fewer and fewer.

Children playing on a Giant Stride, 1901, Indiana Historical Society, P0236

Some of the pieces, like the Giant Stride and the Ocean Wave, shown above, make me incredibly nervous. While I am sure some children of the day did get injured, it clearly wasn’t in such great numbers as to discontinue the manufacture of these pieces across several decades. Two major companies in Indiana, for which we have catalogs, were the American Playground Device Company and the General Playground Equipment Company. The variety of pieces they sold is interesting and truly something to see.

Stop by the library between now and the end of August 2023 to view Play or Peril: Playground Equipment of Yesteryear and share with me the worry of playgrounds of a bygone era.

Amy Vedra

Amy Vedra is the director of reference services. She is currently reading her way through the Great American Reads list.

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