9 Reasons why playgrounds back in the day were more AWESOME than today’s playgrounds

Playland USA

Public playgrounds today are a bastion of nauseating safeness. Everything’s bolted to the ground and made of plastic. Slides are never higher than about 5-6 feet. Swings are engineered in a way that they can’t be swung scarily 10 feet into the air (how do they do that?). It’s all just so safe and boring.

When I was growing up, and even before that in the ’60s and ’70s, the playground was not only unsafe, it might possibly kill you. Everything was made of steel held together by sharp metal rivets and slides towered over 20 feet high oftentimes curly cue-ing around 3 or 4 times. It was awesome and it was insane at the same time.  It was awe-sane!!

I was looking at pictures on Flickr and I came across a group that had pictures of vintage playground equipment.  People had even posted scans of old catalogs featuring enormous metal constructs that were sold to be put on public playgrounds.  So, taking pictures from that vintage playground Flickr site, let’s take a look at how playgrounds from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s are much more unbelievably bad ass than playgrounds are today.

Tire Mountain Tire Wall
Tire Swing buried tire
1. Stuff made from tires – Back in the ’70s, half of the playground consisted of stuff made with discarded tires. All you needed was some wood, metal chains, giant friggin’ nails and a few tires.  Chain a tire to a wood frame, you got a tire swing. Nail like 10 tires together and fasten them to another wood frame, you have a climbing wall. Hell, just take a giant tractor tire and bury half of it in the Earth.  What could be easier?  And safer?

Scary swing set 1 Scary swing 2
Scary swing 3 demon swing
2. Horrifying skinny clown swing sets – Check out these giant, skinny clown swings sets. These towering clown totems were TERRIFYING. They actually look less like swing sets and more like something a demonic clown cult would sacrifice small animals around.  Or maybe something Barnum & Bailey would tie you to if you snuck around their tents unsupervised.  And what’s that last swing set on the bottom right?  A lion?  Some circus demon?  Horrible.

merry go round 1 merry go round 2
3. Multi-colored metal carousels – Large metal merry go rounds that spun freely in either direction. More like “puke and go round”. Invariably, multiple kids would jump on it and then start spinning it faster than is totally necessary.  Next thing you know, kids are thrown 10 feet into the air,  getting dragged along the side in the dirt while holding on and others vomiting up their bologna sandwiches. It’s a wonder more kids didn’t die at the playground. Which made it all the more awesome.

4. We didn’t know how to play with/on half the equipment – Back in the day, playgrounds used to have equipment that made no sense. We would walk up to it and not really know what to do so we’d just climb on and jump off it.  Look at the playground stuff above.  WTF are they?  Do you climb in them?  Under them?  We didn’t know.  Look at the rocket ship.  Where are the seats?  There’s not really enough room in the cage for a bunch of kids.  WTF?!  And the long, mutant horsey with 5 saddles.  After your parents lift you onto one of the saddles, then what?  Do you just sit there?  Who designed this?

Metal centipede Metal car
Metal stagecoach Metal railroad
5. Metal Animals and cars – The metal working and creativity that went into some of the structures at our old playgrounds was second to none. I imagine a giant John Henry wearing an apron stoking fires at a huge forge and banging out metal sculptures on an anvil. He made anything and everything; bugs, cars, stagecoaches, trains, barns and circus wagons. And they weren’t small. These things were big enough for 10 kids to climb on.  Imagine riding the giant centipede as if you were riding a sandworm in Dune.  Or riding the stagecoach waiting to be held up by Jesse James.  So freakin’ awesome.

Space Cruiser playset Lunar Lander Rocket slide
6. Obsession with space and rockets – Since it was the ’60s and ’70s, kids actually loved NASA and real astronauts. So playground equipment companies came up with tons of structures that mimicked space ships. Huge, metal structures that looked like UFOs and rocket ships with slides and ladders that could never be made within today’s safety standards.  These things were AWESOME and dwarf the giant pile of plastic and safety nets we see on today’s playgrounds.  I mean, look at the “Space Carrier” above (via Plaid Stallions).  It looks like the USS Enterprise (click the image to make BIGGER).  THE USS ENTERPRISE!

Miracle Sputnik Miracle Double Sputnik
7. The Miracle Sputnik – No, this is not a carnival ride. It’s made to go on a public playground.  The Miracle Sputnik.  It was developed in the ’60s and used a lot in Europe, but Miracle started importing them to the States in 1966.  You sat in a seat in the round part and pumped your feet to spin the car around.  The two round ends counterbalanced each other and caused the whole thing to rotate.  I’m not even sure what a mother of today would do if she saw this on the playground, other than dragging her kid off to Gymboree instead of letting him ride this awesome-ness.

8. Giganta the Robot – A giant metal robot that kids could climb up in. You can even climb up in his head.  I can barely even conceive of seeing something this awesome on the playground.

Astro city
9. Astro City – It’s nothing but metal forged into the shape of a bunch of rockets emblazoned with USA on the sides and connected to a bunch of slides and enclosed walkways.  IT WAS A DAMN CITY MADE OF METAL ON THE PLAYGROUND!!  If a kid saw these on the playground today he’d probably crap himself in excitement.  I’m pretty sure this thing even got some of the playground mommies pregnant just by looking at it.  BAD.  ASS.

The majority of these pics from within the playground Flickr group come from a Flickr user named Nel_P_Olsen (including the image from the top of the article). Check out his photostream for a bunch more photos of vintage playground stuff.

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19 Responses to “9 Reasons why playgrounds back in the day were more AWESOME than today’s playgrounds”

  1. Hahahaha!
    You are in rare form today, man.

    And that Miracle Sputnik thang – imagine the psychos chuckling as they designed that! “They’re gonna fall out the sides, Fred! Arms are going to get torn of by that support as it flies by! We’re gonna be RICH!”

  2. This was great. I’ve been on (in?) an Astro City. And tires… one of the schools in my hometown had a playground made entirely of tire structures, and I LOVED IT. I’d still play on it today if it hadn’t gotten ruined by the tornado.

  3. I love this! Old playgrounds are the best! Thanks for sharing. I would love to try the Miracle Sputnik.

  4. great post! that Miracle Sputnik looks scary. I do remember alot of the stuff at the playgrounds being made from tires. And I used to love the metal carousels! lol

  5. Holy crap! I remember looking out the car window as we passed Giganta the Robot (though I think it was redesigned as a nutcracker or something) and begging my parents to stop and let me play! I remember it was off of Snelling Avenue in Roseville, MN, and it was always on the way to somewhere or other, so we never had to time to stop and play in totally completely awesome playground! Even though we drove past it every few weeks, I never got to get out of the car and play (and so I still cry on my therapists couch about it to this day).

  6. Wow, you had some really cool retro playground stuff. The sputnik was particularly impressive. We had nothing like that in the UK, but we did have tyres, the metal roundabouts, swings, seesaws, very ordinary slides and that horse thing. You wanted to know what it did. The horse thing seated up to five kids and the way it worked was you started rocking back and forth. The momentum would build as you all worked the horse until it rocked so violently you were in danger of being thrown off, which, given there were no seat belts, the chances were pretty high. Ah, those days of scraped knees and broken bones. We all survived them, yes? Sometimes you can be too safe.

  7. Ah, memories. I don’t remember much of the more extravagant stuff, but I do remember the oddities, and the merry-go-round packed with about 60% of the entire grade that was at recess, spinning like a moon gone haywire.

    What’s more, I remember that it typically didn’t stop if you wanted on or off; you had to jump. Crazy times.

    Slides… wow. Those things would get HOT in the warmer months. I remember one at school, all metal, that was probably 15 feet high, at least (and I’m trying to be conservative in light of my growth). And that was the small one!

    On a related note, this article reminded me of this one, which I thought might interest you:


    –LBD “Nytetrayn”

  8. It’s true, playground these days are way too “soft”, bring back the good stuff we were brought up on!

  9. I have mentioned this to my hubs more than once, (and just the other day actually.) When I was a kid, there was this awesome wooden/ metal playground in my city. The wooden part was built up with ramps and had different levels, like a giant fort or fortress. There was a huge “net” made of chains that could be climbed from the bottom to an upper level, a swirly slide…all sorts of cool stuff. Now all the playgrounds are these plastic, primary-colored nightmares that look like Ronald McDonald friggin’ puked all over the place. I really miss that park. I wish I could find some pics of it online.

  10. YouGotta'BeKiddingMe Says:

    I MISS this stuff. My dad designed a park like that with all the wooden toys—it was AWESOME. It was SO much better than the “safe” garbage that “little precious” won’t fall and scrape a knee or bump his head on like they have now. I’m so glad I grew up when I did—everything sucks now. Kids and playgrounds both.

  11. My parents let me play in abandoned quarrys Says:

    it was great fun growing up when we did but looking at the playgrounds our parents took us to….
    Is it possible they just didn’t like us ?

  12. mark cassidy Says:

    Giganta was in our neighborhood- I was too old to play in it, We played ON it, We climbed the outside to the top of that thing. CRAZY!

  13. We had Astro City in a park in Rapid City, SD. It was the greatest park attraction. We loved it and it was very safe! I would let my kids play on it today if it were still around!

  14. dainsandoval Says:

    I remember the long horse – it was on a glider mechanism – so with gentle lean back/forward you could get that thing going, especially with 5 kids on it. Very easy to get thrown over if it was going hard and it hit the glide stop

  15. In the 70’s and again in the 90’s we built screen printing machines for decorating on long tubes with all kind of elaborate designs. These metal tubes were made out of galvalum which was a proprietary name for the material. The name HEDSTROM and TURCO came to mind and the made this playground equipment. Suffice it to say that the designs really stood out. Unfortunately times have changed, labor is from overseas and such things unimportant. They looked great however.

  16. I don’t understand it why are the old playgrounds called dangerous, once a kid is too big for the toddler playgrounds they should be able to take risks for confidence. Kids climb trees.

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