Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Fun-Filled Danger of the Giant Stride

This month I continue my series on historic playground equipment with one of several posts on the simple swing. Actually, I'm leaving the simple part for another post because I'm excited to show you old glass negatives and images of swings that brought raised brows when I showed my husband an image of people flying around a pole with a death-grip, and laughing as they flew.

Playgrounds, May Day, Glass negative, 1924 May. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington

It's called the Giant Stride and for the first half of the 20th century appeared in most school and public playgrounds. This ride is one of those things that people say is the most dangerous of all those on the playground, and yet those who've taken a spin on this ride agree it's the most exciting one of all. In fact, I believe this apparatus is banned in many areas. 

In 1911, Woods Hutchinson published A Handbook of Health which included an area of children's play. Along with detailing mental and running games, he included a section on the Giant Stride.

Playground catalogs of the period show at least two types of Giant Stride with one being a pole with ladder-like chains hanging down. This is the type shown in the above image where the children are gripping with one hand higher than the other. One father has built on of these in his backyard and made a Giant Stride video. As I watched, a young lad jump away as he tired and I wondered how this can be more dangerous than children jumping off a high-flying regular swing.

The image of the Giant Stride No. D128 is from the 1922 Narragansett Machine Company catalog out of Providence, R.I.

The 1932 Fun-Ful Playground Equipment catalog shows a larger version called the Cycle Stride.

But what we now call a playground ride was used back in Victorian Britain as a physical education apparatus at the North London Collegiate School. Established in 1882, this fine college for young women promoted free and unchecked physical activity as a way to develop graceful and flowing movements. 

Even that wasn't the beginning of the Giant Stride, however, because in 1847 George French Angas contributed an illustration to The New Zealanders Illustrated, of New Zealand Maori children swinging above a bank by ropes that hung from a tall pole. The morere swing was made from ropes obtained from the leaves and fibers of the cabbage tree.

"Swing" Angas, George French 1822-1886: The New Zealanders Illustrated, 1847. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Doesn't it look like the children are enjoying themselves? If you love to hear the shrieks and laughter of children having fun check out this another modern video of a homemade backyard Giant Stride. This one is similar to the first, but the children are seated, and from the excited shrieks, it sounds like they're having fun. (https://youtu.be/scxM6jOnXxQ)

Like all things, however, moderation is the key and the danger heightens as people misuse these play activities at the expense of others who may be younger and weaker and unable to keep their grip.

What are your thoughts on the Giant Stride? Any experiences you'd like 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. Never seen this! I'm sure it would be more fun to an active child than one of those spinning platforms that you sit on. Great post! What you guys think of to research!!!!

    1. Thanks, Connie. Glad you stopped by.

      We have one of these in a neighboring town's playground. It is one with the wheel at the top and a thick slab of rubber belting to sit in. I love the swinging part, but not the rubber belting as it squishes my thighs together and makes my knees ache. Haven't been on it for 20 yrs, but it's still there.

  2. Oh my goodness! I haven't thought about this in more years than I like to count. We had one on our playground at a park near us and one in our school yard back in the early '40's when I was in elementary school. It was one of my favorite things to do. I don't remember it being called this, but it had five or six "handle" contraptions on chains coming from the top of the pole. We would each grab one, designate one girl as the leader then run as fast as we could while she counted (Yelled) 1-2-3 and we all lifted our feet and flew around the pole. We laughed and squealed as went round and round until it stopped and we did it again. This and the merry-go-round were my two favorite playground rides although I did love the swings and high slide as well. The see-saw was my least favorite because it didn't have enough excitement.

    I also remember thinking how "grown up" I was when I was tall enough to grab one of the "handles" and run around the pole. Thanks for bringing back some fun memories. As soon as I saw that first picture, the memories flooded back.

    1. Martha, I could see you 'flying' as I read your words. Thank you so very much for sharing your memory with us.

    2. I just remembered what we called them. It was the "Johnny Strikes" pole. Where THAT name came from I'll never know. It had three bars across similar to the picture so that as we grew taller, we could reach up and hold the next bar.

    3. Thanks, Martha. I just googled "Johnny Strikes" pole and found a website which shows a "giant strikes" playground device similar to the ones in my post. It also states that this was the most dangerous one ever invented. It says, "The large chains and handle bars on the ends would swing around and pop you in the face once someone let go or fell off. It caused more bloody noses than most alumni can count." http://www.collinsvilleisd.org/Page/48

      That is the first time I've read a definitive reason why people say this apparatus is dangerous, so thank you for that, Martha.

    4. Yes, and I remember a few bloody noses and knots on the head. All from the boys and they were trying to do tricks. We girls hung on for dear life and even lifted our legs up high so we would stop more safely without stumbling or falling to let our bar swing loose. Sometimes girls are smarter than boys or maybe we just didn't want to get bloodied up. :)

  3. Just the other day on Facebook there was a brief conversation about what some had called a “Maypole,” but I knew of as the “Giant Stride.” The elementary school that I attended had one, and it was amazingly fun, and a fantastic builder of upper-body and core strength! The ladder-like handles of the long chains allowed for kids of different heights to use it. If one of the 8 chains wasn’t being used, gravity kept it low and close to the pole where it couldn’t hurt a kid. The danger of injuries usually came about if a kid jumped off: the still-high handle could slam the next kid in the face, causing contusions, bloody noses and broken teeth. Also, occasionally a kid would hold a chain briefly while the other kids were still striding on it, then give the chain a careless heave. There was a far greater danger of injuries that way.
    I don’t remember witnessing any broken teeth or blood after seeing a kid being hit, and it never happened to me, but I was whomped a few times! Not fun but not painful enough to stop playing on it.
    Maybe someone could set one up with thickly padded handles, or make the kids wear helmets with face protection while they played on one. The exercise benefits and the sheer FUN is astounding!

    1. What a fascinating comment, Wendy. It sounds like a bully could have a hey-day if they felt the urge. You bring to mind the participants of the extreme sports. They require superior athletic strength and the guts and bravado of someone who believes they are invincible. Perhaps the Giant Stride has been outlawed in some places then, because it presents a fun opportunity to children who haven't grasped their own mortality. Interesting.

      Thanks so much for sharing your perspective. Stop by and visit again. :)

  4. We had one at North Edwardsburgh PS that lost it's chains when the first leg was broken using it. It broke a few arms before that without decommission. But it WAS great fun. Our playgrounds were like Gladiator training camps outta Spartacus in those days