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Photographer Brenda Biondo captures images of playgrounds past




A giant metallic ladder in the shape of a snail. Located in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, this piece reflected a period in which equipment was designed to be more fun and playful.
A giant metallic ladder in the shape of a snail. Located in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, this piece reflected a period in which equipment was designed to be more fun and playful.
Brenda Biondo
A giant metallic ladder in the shape of a snail. Located in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, this piece reflected a period in which equipment was designed to be more fun and playful.
A section from a catalogue for Saddle Mates, just one brand of a playground toy with an animal hitched aboard a spring that would rock kids back and forth.
Brenda Biondo/Game Time Inc
A giant metallic ladder in the shape of a snail. Located in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, this piece reflected a period in which equipment was designed to be more fun and playful.
Some well-worn Saddle Mates located in a Penrose, Colorado playground (2009)
Brenda Biondo
A giant metallic ladder in the shape of a snail. Located in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, this piece reflected a period in which equipment was designed to be more fun and playful.
A page from a playground equipment catalogue that showcased the Giant Stride.
Brenda Biondo/Giant Manufacturing Company
A giant metallic ladder in the shape of a snail. Located in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, this piece reflected a period in which equipment was designed to be more fun and playful.
From a catalogue circa 1968, this piece of equipment reflects a time in which space travel and flight captured America's imagination. Playground designers followed suit with equipment that would capture children's attention.
Brenda Biondo/Miracle Equipment Company
A giant metallic ladder in the shape of a snail. Located in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, this piece reflected a period in which equipment was designed to be more fun and playful.
This page from a 1971 catalogue showcases a Wizard of Oz-themed piece of equipment. Some designers would pluck out ideas from popular culture and incorporate them into their toys.
Brenda Biondo/Game Time Inc


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There was a time that playgrounds were a lot more jagged, metallic, and dangerous-looking, and yet they were statistically just as safe as today's equipment and perhaps more fun.

Photographer Brenda Biondo captured historic pieces of playground equipment scattered throughout parks around the country.

Her new book, "Once Upon a Playground: A celebration of classic American playgrounds, 1920 - 1975," showcases the history of the American playground from its roots in the cities to teach immigrant children to be "good citizens," to today's slides and merry-go-rounds that have been re-imagined to be more safe and secure.

Interview Highlights:

 What were the earliest playgrounds like?

"The earliest playgrounds that had equipment on them started in the early 1900s during the reform era. People were really interested in getting city kids off of the dangerous streets and they started hearing about some of these playgrounds that were being built in Europe and decided to try some of them in the US, mainly in the large cities with large immigrant populations, where kids could come and spend time and run around and stay out of trouble, but also learn to be good citizens, learn cooperation and teamwork and learn American customs. By the 1920s playgrounds began popping up in smaller towns and communities around the country."

What themes did you notice during your research into playgrounds?

"The equipment reflected, to some extent, the era in which it was installed. In the 60s and 70s when space exploration was very popular and people were very excited about that, in the playgrounds you started seeing these big metal rocketships and these climbers in the shape of satellites and lunar landers and radar screens and all sorts of spaceage stuff."

What did you learn about the designs of this playground equipment?

"I learned that from the '20s, '30s and '40s, when they were more or less pretty straightforward wooden and metal structures, in the 50s they started to take on these different shapes because they wanted to engage the children a little bit more. It was after the second world war, there was a more upbeat feeling in the country, so they wanted to have something new and different on the playground, so they started looking around at popular culture to pull references into the design."

What was the fundamental change that happened in the 1970s with playground design?

"In 1972, the Consumer Product Safety Commission was formed. One of the things they started looking at were the reports and the data on accidents from playgrounds. They decided that playgrounds needed some standards. People who were responsible for parks and school playgrounds decided that, well, we better make sure our equipment meets the newest standards.

"I think in many cases the early '70s were the beginning of the end for these old playgrounds, because instead of repairing them in most cases when they were getting worn and old, people decided they should be replaced. Also, not only for safety reasons, but I think there's a perception among parents and parks officials that, gee kids today should have a piece of equipment thats newer than 40 years old."