Saturday, August 5, 2017

Early 1900 Playground Slides

Last year while researching for my post, Unique Merry-Go-Rounds, I happened upon information and fascinating images of early playground equipment. The images show the fearless freedom of children who didn't have parents or guardians watching their every move. Although yesteryear was fraught with the danger of falling off the high playground structures of the day, kids crawled, hung and swung to their heart's content - or until their mother yelled out that it was time to come home for supper, or bed. 

It's time to confess however, that I was caught royally when I read a blogpost that showed three extremely long boards with children sitting on them with the caption that, "Historians have discovered photos of what's thought to be the world's first children's slide." At first I believed them since the source was the trusted Then the same story was published in the Daily Mail. When I checked Wikipedia, however, I discovered that the claim seemed to come from a playground manufacturing company and that the information was disputed by people who knew of existing playground slides. 

One of those earlier slides was presented in the Wikipedia article which showed this image taken in 1921 of school children on a slide at the East Texas State Normal College. Historically, Normal School/College was a training school for teachers and the children in the photograph are under the care of teachers-in-training.

Schoolchildren on a slide at the East Texas State Normal College Training School in 1921
East Texas State Normal College. Source: Wikipedia.

This next photograph was taken in March 1917 showing play-time at the Oklahoma School for the Blind in Muskogee, Oklahoma. The caption insists that the photos were not posed and that the children in their care have a great deal of freedom. Why do you think someone felt it important enough to put on the caption?

March 1917, Play-time at the Oklahoma School for the Blind. Children have a great deal of freedom (Ellis report). Photos were not posed. Location: Muskogee, Oklahoma / Lewis W. Hine. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

And what about this triple slide photographed in 1917 at Taylor Playground, New Orleans, Louisiana. It's another image from Wikimedia Commons and shows that playground slides must have been around for several years to show this level of expertise.

Taylor Playground, New Orleans, 1917, with triple slide. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In the first couple decades of the 20th century many large department city stores had inside, or rooftop, playgrounds featuring slides and merry-go-rounds. I wanted to show you a couple examples, but couldn't find one that wasn't copyrighted. These store playgrounds existed so that moms could shop without the distraction of children. 

On the topic of elaborate slides, I was quite surprised when my research turned up the 1932 Fun-Ful Playground Equipment catalog by Hill-Standard Co. I thought tube slides were a recent invention - probably because all the ones I've seen have been made with plastic, but the catalog says this tunnel slide was one of their recent numbers. 

Tunnel Slide from the 1932 Fun Ful Playground Equipment Catalog. Source:

Spiral Slide from the 1932 Fun Ful Playground 
Equipment Catalog. Source:

From the same Fun-Ful catalog comes this image of a Spiral Slide. Upon seeing it, my first thought was that if this was 8-10 yrs down the road, the steel would have gone into the making of munitions rather than playground equipment.

For those interested, the Fun-Ful catalog is available online as a PDF through

All these pictures prove to me that the slide has been around a lot longer than 1922 as mentioned at the top of this post. It also proves that there is a lot of information on the internet and you must check several sources for accuracy. In this case, two sources were inaccurate and I stress how important it was to find that third source which opened the door to many more.

To finish off, here's a fun pic I found in the Library of Congress online Prints and Photographs Division. It's Sistie and 'Buzzie' Dall, children of Mr. and Mrs. Dall, and grandchildren of President and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, playing on equipment in the White House playground. Doesn't Sistie look like she's enjoying herself?

1933, First photograph of Roosevelt Grandchildren at play on White House grounds. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington DC

A slide can be as simple as a board, and as elaborate as those found in the biggest waterpark. Do you like to slide? Care to share?


Anita Mae Draper's historical romances are woven under the western skies of the Saskatchewan prairie where her love of research and genealogy yield fascinating truths that layer her stories with rich historical details.  Anita's short story, Here We Come A-Wassailing, was a finalist for the Word Guild's 2015 Word Awards. Her novellas are included in Austen in Austin Volume 1, The American Heiress Brides Collection, and The Secret Admirer Romance Collection. Readers can check out Anita's Pinterest boards for a visual idea of her stories to enrich their reading experience.  Discover more at:


  1. I loved to slide when I was a kid. I'm afraid I'd break any slide I got on on. :0/ Thanks for the fun pictures. That caption from the OK picture is a bit odd. I suppose it's their way of saying: "No children were harmed in the making of this picture."

    1. Vickie, your caption sure brought the image up to the present. I really miss those days when we were allowed the freedom to challenge ourselves in the home setting, close to family and friends who'd come running at the first sound of alarm, regardless who had fallen.

      I wonder if the Ellis Report mentioned in that particular caption was the result of complaints. After all, if the blind kids weren't allowed the activity of their healthier counterparts, their health would start failing and cost the providers more than if they were allowed the freedom of play.

      Thanks for sharing, Vickie.

  2. I enjoyed sliding as a child, but haven't been on one for a few years. I still like to swing though when at a park. I've seen tunnel and spiral slides at one of our small family friendly park for children--yes they are made of plastic and not the metal. Although, there's one older slide that is metal. Thank you for sharing this informative and interesting post.

    1. You're welcome, Marilyn, and thanks for mentioning that you like to swing. I love to swing and will be featuring different swing styles in my next post on Sep 5th. :)

  3. I loved to slide as a child. I enjoy water park slides. Anita, thank you for this fun post!

    1. You're welcome, Caryl. Oh, water slides are fun - except I go way too fast. My husband has even hooked his feet around my hips to slow me down, which helps, but it's still faster than I'd like. Yep, I'm not a thrill-seeker since the feeling of losing control takes away some of the fun for me.

      Thanks for sharing!

  4. What great photos! That one of the spiral slide brought back the memory of my young son getting to the top of one of those (in a small town old playground), changing his mind ... and trying to WALK BACK DOWN THAT LADDER as if were a flight of stairs. He was in the air before I could get to him ... and stitches ensued. He's a dad of 4 now, so no longlasting harm ... but ouch. Memory.

    1. Oh no! It must have been a rough time for you as well as him, and I bet he's remembered that all this time as well.

      I've also seen teens and adults climb down those types of ladders like that using their heels only, and I've cringed every time. I have enough trouble climbing down any ladder backwards, never mind facing the open air.

      Thanks for sharing your story. This might sound weird, but as a writer I love the way you detailed it out so we could see it happening.