World’s First Playground Swing, says the Daily Mail? Not. (Again!)


So last year the Daily Mail ran a piece asserting that they had photos of the ‘world’s first playground slide’, as invented by Charles Wicksteed.  This year they’re at it again, claiming that his swings at Kettering Park in 1923 are “what is believed to be the world’s first playground swings“!  Now I’m sure Charles Wicksteed was a fine fellow and a credit to his country, and these are great period photographs, but the Daily Mail should do some research.  Wicksteed didn’t invent the playground slide, or the swing, and his constructs not only aren’t the first of their kind, they’re not even close.

In the UK itself, playgrounds for children of the poor in London’s East End had swings by at least 1875.  Longtime readers of this blog might remember Chicago’s Hull House, which opened in 1895 in a clamor of delight with boys tunneling under the fence to be the first at the swings.  New York’s Carnegie Playground was photographed in 1911.  With swings.  Boston’s ‘Dump’ Playground, 1915.  Swings.  The fact that swings were commonplace features in outdoor playspaces for children well before Wicksteed’s 1923 installation is demonstrated by their presence at a lonely, isolated one-room schoolhouse in Comanche County, Oklahoma, in 1916.

We’ll probably never be able to pinpoint the ‘World’s First Playground Swing!”, and it’s silly to try.  The documentation of swings being enjoyed as private recreations by both adults and children dates back to Crete, for pete’s sake (see examples of swings in ancient art at the Wiki article on swings).  In the late 18th century, swings became associated with the idea of healthful recreation (as documented here on Playscapes) becoming first a part of spas, and then of gymnasiums.   These were semi-public spaces.  So when children’s play became a part of the public sphere in the late 19th century, it was natural that swings were there too, and it probably happened quickly and in multiple locations at around the same time.  That’s how great ideas work.  Wicksteed was adopting and producing and perhaps improving swings and slides, but not inventing them.  No “World’s First” here.

Next on the Daily Mail:  Wicksteed as inventor of the park bench!

P.S.  I notice that the assertion of ‘world’s first’ on last year’s piece about the slides has been removed.  Hmmm.

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