The Crazy Things Parents Used to Let Their Kids Do
The Baby Cage
Although sounds and even looks terrifying, baby cages were really popular in the first half of 20th century.
Physicians at that time, same as today, recommended a lot of fresh air and sun for babies and small children in order to build and boost their immune system.
Easier said than done in urban areas and buildings without balconies and backyards. Parents had to be inventive. One of such parent was Emma Read of Spokane, Washington, who patented the baby cage in 1922.
In the early 1930s, the baby cages became popular in the UK, too, especially in London as an excellent solution to “aired out” babies.
The size of the baby cages varied and mostly depended on the dimensions of the window. Also, there were baby cages big enough for toddlers.
Looking at this old photo of a baby in the baby cage hanging from a window it is certain that besides boosting the immune system babies probably conquered any fear of heights.
Source: 1934-1948: Baby cages
Eleanor Roosevelt Liked Baby Cages
The concept of baby cages was introduced in the late 18th century when famous America pediatrician Dr. Luther Emmett Holt wrote about “airing” babies in his book “The Care and Feeding of Children,” although there was no mentioning of baby cages as such.
Even Eleanor Roosevelt bought a baby cage in 1906, long before the commercial options became available on the market.
In her New York City townhouse, she hung a chicken-wire baby cage out the window for her first child Anna. Her neighbors didn’t like this practice and almost reported her to the authorities.
Times change. Parenting, too. Regardless of their popularity and practical use, baby cages stopped being used during the 1950s, partly due to safety issues.
Still, this is not a bad idea if you have a cat and you are living in an apartment without a terrace.
Far and away the weirdest thing that you could find during the 1970s on the playground was Giganta.
This enormous piece of equipment was created in 1974 by Jamison Fantasy Playground Equipment.
Even though it looks more like then an industrial contraption rather than a fun part of the playground, it was very popular among children.
Built like a robot, Giganta had two slides instead of hands where children who climbed into its belly could enter and slide. It was seven meters (22,5 feet) high and weighed in at 1,996 kilograms (4,000 pounds). I
It’s hard to imagine how something so scary was so popular, but that’s kinda what makes kids what they are.
Parents today would look at this and cringe in fear that their child might get hurt.
In the days of yesteryear, things were different. Children back then were more or less required to explore. To find out what they could do and how to do it.
Swinging and trying to jump out and land the furthest away was a playground competition. The major problem was not spraining or breaking an ankle when you won.
The metal chains posed another obstacle that needed to be overcome.
If you did hold the chains right and swung high enough to get slack in the chain the chances of a nice pinch on the finger was relatively good.
But anyone who grew up before the safety movement can relate and most likely smile at the memories.
Catching Rats by the Dozens
In the Victorian Era, many children worked in coal mines or cleaned chimneys, but some of them preferred rat catching as their choice of fun and money earning.
Even in those days, people knew that rats are carriers of many diseases and that they were far from safe for children to touch them.
However, there were seasons where London was infested with waves of these rodents and someone needed to catch them.
There were many rat catchers as it was a very lucrative business. For anyone who wanted to catch rats, it definitely helped to have a trained dog or ferret in their corner, something that meant kids had a lot of competition from adults.
Cocaine Tooth Drops
If you thought you have seen it all, just wait. In 1886, this cheery advertisement on the picture was all over New York.
The “cocaine toothache drops” were available in pharmacies, and it was used mostly for dental interventions as local anesthesia.
This “instantaneous cure” was promoted as a perfect way to numb the pain in order to fix a tooth or even remove its nerve.
You had to soak a cotton ball with these cocaine drops, and then you could remove the tooth without a problem. This was a successful business for a long time, but definitely not child-appropriate.
The picture shows a playground in Belle Isle Park in Detroit, America’s largest city island park.
Belle Isle officially opened in 1845 and was designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and has approximately 364 hectares (900 acres), larger than Central Park in New York City.
Belle Isle is also home to the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, which is the oldest conservatory in America, and the Detroit Zoological Society.
The financial problems of Detroit have led to cutbacks at the park that have ultimately led to it falling into disrepair.
The state of Michigan leased the Isle for 30 years in order to provide the proper care, and the state’s Department of Natural Resources now oversees the park.
Since February 2015 an $11 Recreation Passport is required to enter the park by car.
Source: Belle Isle Park
The Beer Baby
This photo of a dirty baby, dated between the 1940s and ’50s, is part of the Calgary Glenbow Museum photo collection.
And it is not just a piece in some collection, it is also a part of Calgary history. After “hard work” in mud and lots of fun, this baby decided to continue playing on the porch with a bottle of Calgary Beer.
Calgary Beer was produced by Calgary Brewing and Malting Company Co. founded on March 12, 1892, by A.E. Cross (one of the Big Four, backers of the first Stampede) and his partners.
Ale brewing began exactly one year later. At the same time, the Buffalo Head trademark was registered. The brewery was the first industrial site in Calgary that used natural gas.
The history of the brewery has been dynamic. These days, the remaining buildings of the Calgary Brewing and Malting Company are listed in the city’s potential heritage sites.
When Physical Education was Actually Physical
Physical education programs were quite different in the 1940s and ’50s. If you think that your gym classes are hard today, better think twice.
A couple of decades ago, PE was a very important school subject and every school had to have it.
Unfortunately, in the last decade, something has changed, and gym classes stopped being so relevant to all students. Meanwhile, people still remember the amount of exercise that they had to do in gym class and the physical shape that kids were in.
At that time, exercises looked scary, and kids had to climb ropes, do gymnastics, countless sit-ups, push-ups and many other exercises.
Nobody can disagree that they were in much better physical condition than kids today.
Mailing Kids Cross-Country
What if you could ship your child via the U.S. Postal Service?
That possibility sounds both incredible and terrifying, but it was a real option for parents in 1913.
Instead of worrying about how they would transport their children to their grandparents or other relatives, people could just mail their babies and it was a legal option.
In order to save time, parents would send their child with the Post Office and it was considered a cheaper and easier way of travelling.
This weird shortcut was available when the U.S. Postal Service developed a parcel post service, where everyone could send packages that weighed up to five kilograms (11 pounds).
The Atomic Energy Lab
This TOY might sound like a beginners kit for “Mad Scientists 101”!
It was actually sold in the USA between 1950 and 1951. The Atomic Energy Lab kit produced by the A.C. Gilbert Company came with real samples of radioactive materials (autunite, torbernite, uraninite and carnotite).
The set sold for about $50, which today would be approx $500, a pretty steep price at any time.
The company sold about 5000 of these kits in the 2 years before being canceled, mainly due to safety concerns.
The truth is that the radioactive sources in the kit contained as much radiation as a day in the sun.
Some of us might even remember friends or relatives that wanted one of these or even knowing someone who had one. A complete set today can go for between approx $1700 and $2000 at auction.
These rings have been used in all sorts of recreational areas and sport and are even an Olympic event.
The rings were developed by Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, who is also considered to be the “Father of Modern Gymnastics”.
Originally called “Roman rings,” they originated in Italy and date back approximately 2000 years.
The rings are also used in general exercise programs mainly due to the rings helping to enhance the effectiveness of other exercises. In addition to this, the rings are versatile and can be suspended almost anywhere.
Schools in America began using them in gymnasiums and installing them on playgrounds after the Wicksteed company began exporting their playground equipment to the U.S..
Due to increase safety concerns, there has been a decline in the use and installation of the rings in schools and public playgrounds.
Source: Gymnastics rings
Cigarettes and Children
It has been a long time since this photo represented everyday life, but for children in the late 19th century, it was a normal habit.
Without strict cigarette laws, many American children had the opportunity to try smoking without any adult supervision.
It was common to see a small boy holding a cigarette like he had been doing it for years.
This smoking epidemic lasted until 1971 when cigarette ads were finally halted from TV.
Since then, smoking has become less popular among both children and adults. Fortunately, today things are different and the rates of underage smoking are on the decline.
Source: When Cigarettes Were For Kids
Children have a huge imagination, and back in the days, before the Internet and all of these new modern toys, they had to be creative in order to have some fun.
Unfortunately, fun might have had a slightly different meaning back then.
When we say tire racing, you probably would not think literally of someone racing with tires, but in 1935 kids did exactly that.
Of course, their play came with a slight modification, where one child was a “driver” and another was balled up in the tire.
This game was not safe for children, as it was easy for them to get hurt. Children would fall out of the tires and even crash into each other. Not fun at all.
Okay, maybe just a little — but it was still dangerous.
The Swinging Maypole
An indispensable piece of equipment in children’s playgrounds was the maypole, also know as a merry-go-round.
Maypoles actually have a long history and tradition.
Some historians believe that the maypole dance originated in Germany as a traditional fertility ritual held every spring.
Other discussions lead to a belief that the maypole is connected to an old Roman festivity celebrating that same season.
Both theories suggest that the earliest maypoles were actually living trees, stripped of their leaves and branches and decorated with ivy, flowers and dozens of ribbons fastened to the top.
People, each with a ribbon in hand, danced around the pole and wove the ribbons down the pole.
Does this look familiar to you? Although the maypole has a long playground tradition, it is rare to see it on today’s playgrounds.
Source: History of the Maypole
Have a Smoke, Kid
Would you let your child smoke a cigarette, or even more importantly, would you light it for them? Probably not.
This picture shows the dark side of the late 19th century when smoking was a habit even for small children.
Like in the previous picture, a child is smoking, but this time he does it in the presence of an adult.
Even after child labor laws were regulated (meaning kids weren’t out working unsupervised before they were 10), some people still ignored it and a risk of a smoking epidemic was always in the air.
Picking the smoking habit was considered fun, almost the same as if the child was trying mom’s makeup or wearing dad’s big shoes.
Source: When Cigarettes Were For Kids
It Was All About Monkeying Around
This black and white photo shows children playing on the iron monkey poles playground at Trinity Play Park in Dallas, Texas.
“Children playing” sounds so innocent but if you look closely, you will see metal ladders reaching up to high parallel bars.
Children are sitting on the top of those bars and hanging from them. No parents on the site and no padding on or under the bars.
According to the book “Historic Dallas Parks” written by John Slate, Trinity Play Park had a significant community function with its after-school program that started in the 1900s.
The purpose of the program was to care for children while parents worked in the cotton factory nearby.
In 1927, Trinity Play Park was renamed to Fretz Park. According to the historical records of Dallas Municipal, Trinity Play Park is no longer exist.
Kids in Sacks. On a Motorcycle.
This perfect shot of kids riding a motorcycle while packed in the sack behind the driver was taken in Zurich.
It is one of the true representations of child safety in those days. That does look scary!
Back then, people had different thoughts about what kids are allowed to do, where to play, or how you can treat them.
The perspective of safe parenting at that time is almost unimaginable for parents today. Someone would probably call child services as soon as they spotted this kind of child endangerment.
For many kids in those days, it was just a regular life.
Source: More Vintage Child Safety
Carlo Broschi or better known for his stage name, Farinelli, was one of the best Italian opera singers of the 18th century.
He was very famous for his glorious soprano voice and the fact that he belonged to a group of castrati boys.
The castrati were all choirboys who were castrated just before their voices could change. This was a very popular practice, and people were crazy about male sopranos.
Just a century ago, over 5,000 boys were castrated annually, just in order to keep their voices higher pitched.
Some of the tones they created could not have been produced without surgical intervention. The ones who were seen as talented everybody adored and celebrated.
BMX Bikes With No Helmet?
Remember the first day when you got your own bicycle, but you were too small and you needed training wheels?
Well, these kids just got their first BMX bicycles. These bikes are almost indestructible and specifically made for races and the obligatory air trick or two.
One of the most fun two-wheel sports is BMX racing, but is it suitable for small children?
Kids tend to have more energy and they are definitely not scared of trying new things as much as adults are.
Mainly because adults are very familiar with the consequences if you fall, or try doing some dangerous stunts without any supervision. Of course it looks fun — until you get hurt.
The picture says it all. Since the 12th century, chimney sweeping was a very common job, but also very hard and demanding one.
Unfortunately, during the 17th and 18th century, it became quite notorious.
Since you needed to be a small size in order to fit down a chimney and climb inside the flues, children were perfect for this line of work.
Many adult chimney sweeps would find their little helpers by taking them from orphanages, buying them from parents or even kidnapping them.
Children would suffer and get various respiratory illnesses and even cancer. Finally, in 1875, the use of kids as chimney sweeps was regulated and forbidden.
Bronx Park Frivolity
As seen in this photo taken in the early 1900s in Bronx Park, playground equipment was not limited in height.
Bronx Park came into existence during a movement that swept New York City during the 1880s.
John Mullaly (1835-1925), who was a former reporter and editor, along with a group of citizens formed the New York Park Association in 1881.
The group’s efforts proved to be successful, as New York acquired properties in the Bronx that eventually became parks and parkways.
Bronx Park has several monuments that were presented to the city. It is also the site of the Rocking Stone, a leftover of the Ice Age.
This rough piece of granite is now located in the Bronx Zoo.
Source: Bronx Park
One of the more popular medicines given to babies and children during the 18th and 19th centuries was Godfrey’s Cordial or also known as Mother’s Friend.
This powerful “medicine” was available without a doctor’s prescription and contained one grain of opium in just two ounces of fluid.
It was considered to be a remedy for dehydration, colics, bloody diarrhea and many other diseases.
The opium additive seriously affected infants and children, as it was easy to overdose with just a couple of extra drops.
Merry-Go-Rounds With Plenty of Kids Onboard
Merry-go-round and round and round… Childrens’ laughter echoed in a city’s quarters.
You can see girls enjoying and having fun in this photo of a New York playground from sometime between 1910 and 1915.
Even after so many years, equipment for children’s playgrounds basically stayed the same in its core, with just some design changes and much-needed safety features have been added.
Merry-go-rounds became an inspiration for carousels going up and down and round, with flashy lights and music.
Carousels are interesting and amusing but still, that feeling of happiness running with friends in the circle and trying not to step on someone’s is missing.
Maternal Smoking Around Babies
Not so long ago, many pregnant women preferred smoking Philip Morris cigarettes.
This ad showing a mother with her newborn was very popular among young women, as it insinuated the gentleness of a cigarette was similar to the gentleness of their newborn.
During mid-century America, smoking was a common habit, and many people ignored the effect of cigarettes had on their health.
Pregnant women explained that smoking helped them calm their mother jitters and the anxiety they felt on a daily level.
Fortunately for them, soon enough it became a common knowledge that smoking can have a bad effect on pregnancy.
The Crossing Sweep Kids
As you might have already noticed, the Victorian era could be a poor period for many children to live in.
History was not very pleasant to them, and kids had to do many dirty and even dangerous jobs.
One of those jobs was of crossing sweeper.
Kids would claim their part of some filthy street and as soon as some rich man or woman would step out of their carriage or walk towards them, they would sweep the dirt from their path so their clothes and shoes would stay clean.
This was not a well-paid job, and children did it in hopes of receiving a tip. Not only did they have to work hard for poor tips, but they also had to dodge the traffic around them.
Tall Slides Were the Way to Go
Since the first slide was engineered by Charles Wicksteed for Wicksteed Park, slides have gone through substantial changes.
This photo of a very busy high metal slide proves this, wouldn’t you say?
Improvements in design and modern materials had an inevitable impact on the shapes and sizes of slides.
Today, there are so many different types: flat, tube, wave, scoop, spiral… Slides are still a fixture at playgrounds, waking up not only children’s unlimited imagination but adults’, too.
Regardless of the period in time, it is obvious that we all, in one moment in our lives, have enjoyed sliding down fast and furious.
The Coca-Cola Cure-All
Back in the 1800s, one of the world’s most famous refreshing drinks still included cocaine.
Coca-Cola was promoted as a perfect cure for different nervous afflictions.
If you wanted to get rid of your headache, calm your hysteria, cure melancholy or treat neuralgia, Coke claimed to be able to help you will of that.
It was originally created to be a medicine for patients, and the creator of Coca-Cola, John Pemberton, initially used 141.7 grams (five ounces) of coca leaf per gallon of syrup.
Even though the soda contained nine milligrams (less than an ounce) of cocaine per glass, the drink was promoted and used even by children.
Before child labor laws were regulated, children had jobs, same as adults did.
In the early 20th century, kids who were selling newspapers, from early morning and sometimes even until midnight, were called “newsies”.
Many of those children were very young, some of them were just six years old and often did not even know how to count the change to their customers.
This particular picture was taken by Lewis Hine, on February 12, 1908, in New York.
In that time, Hine took many similar pictures in order to show the children’s quality of life, and support a campaign against child labor.
Source: Lewis Hine – Newsies
Morphine for the Cranky Babies
When we look through history’s pages, there were many “perfect medications” used for calming babies, and Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup was one of those.
This miraculous drug, otherwise known as “the baby killer,” was very popular in the late 19th and early 20th century across the United Kingdom and North America.
It was originally produced in 1849 by Jeremiah Curtis, who was Mrs. Winslow’s son-in-law, along with Curtis’ partner, Benjamin A. Perkins.
The syrup consisted of alcohol and 65 milligrams of morphine. Parents would use Mrs. Winslow’s in order to calm down their fussy babies.
However, just one teaspoon of this syrup could kill a child, and no one knows how many babies took this horrifying morphine medicine and never woke up in the morning.
The Double Dutch Cycling Method
Double dutch is the act of two people riding one bike, as seen here in this photo.
One would be driving, while the other would sit behind or in front. Needless to say, this type of bike riding is dangerous and risky.
In those days, not everybody had a bike. It was something that everybody wanted. For adults, it was a great means to travel, while for children it was a great source of fun.
Unfortunately, double dutch biking (then and now) was an easy way to fall and break something if you weren’t careful enough.
Stunt Riding With No Protection
There are not many adults who would be willing to do stunts on their bikes, especially if those bikes are BMX.
On the other hand, children tend to be less scared and more eager to do anything that might seem dangerous.
Even if they fall, they will get up and try to do it again.
Of course, this type of fun had its dark side, where you can get badly hurt in just one second.
It’s bad enough to fall without proper protective gear and you can wind up severely injured, with broken bones or even with a broken neck. Back in the ‘80s, bike racing and air stunts were a normal part of a child’s daily life.
Laudanum and Its Opium to the Rescue
Allow us to introduce you to one of many drugs used on children as medicine in 1676 — Laudanum.
This drug is actually a powerful alcoholic extract that contains almost 10% of opium.
Since it was publicly for sale, this pain reliever and narcotic was promoted as a cure for many different conditions.
According to its sellers, Laudanum could cure everything, including meningitis and even menstrual cramps.
The opium was mostly spoon-fed to babies in order to fix bowel problems, teething pain, convulsions and even flatulence.
Of course, no one told the buyers that Laudanum could also cause itching, constriction of pupils, constipation and respiratory distress.
Old Enough to Walk, Old Enough to Work
Children that lived during the Victorian era were used to working starting at a very young age.
If the child was born into a poorer family, they had no choice but to help their parents pay the bills or work around the house doing chores.
There was almost no job that children did not do, including some of the most terrible jobs in history.
They had to work for long hours every single day. Children also did ‘chores’ that included everything from building houses, cleaning stables, or even working with heavy machinery.
Sadly, kids were expected to work as hard as adults did, and they had no other choice.
The Loblolly Boy
Even when we grow up we can still get upset over images of surgery, amputated limbs, open guts and even be grossed out by blood.
Being a loblolly boy was a job that not many adults would ever do.
The sole purpose of this role was to assist a navy surgeon during surgery in the middle of the ocean, and later to dispose of amputated limbs or spilled guts.
These boys were also responsible for feeding sick people and cleaning all the toilets.
It goes without saying that being a loblolly boy was a terrible and disgusting job. The child who was forced into this profession had to witness every surgical procedure no matter how major or minor it was.
Source: The 8 Worst Jobs Kids Used to Do
Heroin as Medicine
Heroin actually gets its name from how the people that participated in the trials described the feeling they had when taking it:
Feeling like heroes – Heroisch in German.
In 1898, Heinrich Dreser, an employee of the Bayer pharmaceutical company, noted the potential commercial use of diacetylmorphine, a byproduct of morphine that was first synthesized in 1874 by Charles Romley Wright, a chemist from London.
Even though Wright did not see any particular use for this, Dreser declared that this new compound was a non-addictive substitute for morphine (then used as a painkiller).
Tuberculosis and pneumonia were both leading causes of death, and heroin was a sedative that helped slow down breathing and gave patients quick relief.
In 1914 the use of heroin was restricted to prescription-only and then in 1924 was banned with the exception of use under strict medical supervision.
Military-Grade Monkeying Around
Monkey bars come in all shapes and sizes. They range from dome-shaped with triangle sections to squares with smaller rectangular sections.
They have not only become a part of almost every playground but versions have also been implemented into obstacle course training for police and the military.
However, over the last two decades a decline and even destruction of these pieces of “childhood memories” have become the norm due to the continuing safety concerns of today’s parents.
Even the federal government has gotten involved and imposed safety regulations for playgrounds.
With so many concerns for safety, no one thinks about the lessons that were learned from playing on these “Death Traps.”
Not Quite a Mountain Peak, But Still...
The evolution of children’s playgrounds has been significant.
Playgrounds from the beginning of the 20th century are considered highly unsafe, even dangerous, by today’s safety standards.
Back then, children were enjoying slide rides, climbing on metal monkey bars, and jumping from high swings.
They had skills of top athletes, although they were a little clumsier. Some of them were excellent acrobats.
Their parents didn’t track and monitor their every move, while some kids today have the world stop for them because of a fall out of bed.
This photo of a playground dated from the mid-1950s shows a line of boys climbing on a high – very high – wave slide. Would you see this slide in today’s playgrounds?
We’d vote no on that.
Sometimes Adults Got in on the Action
This photo of an unknown playground during the early 1900s shows how even adults used the equipment.
Noticeable is the men are on one end and the women on the other. It can also be seen that one of the women is sitting on the swing “side-saddle” with both legs to one side.
This picture makes you wonder how anyone survived those times and toys. Also, notice the other adults standing around watching and some just leaning against the poles.
Maybe waiting their turn?
City councils would have a fit with this type of fun today. But at that time no one really gave thought to safety and just lived to enjoy the moment.
During the Industrial Revolution, one of the life-threatening jobs that kids did was matchstick dipping.
This was a job where young girls were usually employed.
The work consisted of dipping matchsticks into phosphorous, the substance that was responsible for a disease called phosphorus necrosis of the jaw.
This terrifying disease could lead to horrible infection, a loosening of the jaw to the point it was practically falling off and finally end with a terrible death.
Most workers ate where they worked, so it was very easy for them to get this horrible disease.
The serious consequences of the match dipper’s work finally lead to restrictions placed on the use of white phosphorus.
The Deadly Profession of Being a Mule Scavenger
Starting in the 1700s it became a terrible period to have a job in manufacturing, especially if you were a child.
As an example, children worked on dangerous textile machines called mules that were in constant need of fixing and cleaning.
Of course, at that time, the Industrial Revolution had just begun and machines were built to make stuff, not keep people safe.
There is one thing that we did not mention: the children who worked as ‘mule scavengers’ had to actually do their job while the textile mills (mules) were still operating.
The kids had to be fast and efficient since their job usually involved having to crawl under the machines slamming only inches above their head.
Source: The 8 Worst Jobs Kids Used to Do
Teenaged Powder Monkeys
A long time ago, one of the most dangerous jobs in the world was being a powder monkey on naval vessels.
It was a very underrated job on the ship, where young teenage boys had to bring gunpowder from storage rooms during battles.
The lads played a very vital role in these campaigns since one simple delay during their job could have cost them a ship’s defeat.
Their responsibility, besides bringing the gunpowder, was also to keep it safe and away from fires.
Some of these boys did the job of their own free will, but unfortunately, some of them were forced into the position.
No matter how much you love bowling, we bet you would never let your child work as a pinsetter during the 1930s.
It was a low-paid position, where many of the workers were young teenage boys who had to put pins in order, take out the fallen ones and also return the bowling balls to the waiting players.
This was often a hard part-time job, where you had to be fast and make sure you didn’t fall into the lane. Basically, you needed to know exactly when to stay out of the way.
For a long time now, bowling alleys have used manual pin setting. Fortunately for us and the children of the time, the first mechanical pinsetter was finally developed by Gottfried Shmidt in 1936.
Source: Pinsetters – The young boys who stayed up until midnight to manually reset bowling pins
Wear a Cape
The playground for superheroes.
If you lived through this type of playground some might call you a Superman or Wonder Woman.
You can see the parents looking on casually and not getting excited or yelling at the children for swinging with two on one swing and each holding on to the knotted rope.
There are even a few older men standing on the climbing and horizontal ladders, which was not far from the children swinging as high as they could.
Today, safety regulations would not even come close to allowing a playground to use this type of equipment.
And when you look close at the bottom half of the photo you can see more kids waiting to start swinging too.
The Groom of the Stool
Have you ever heard of the groom of the stool? Prepare yourselves, as it was a terrible job that even children were employed to do.
In the early 20th century, “Groom of the Stool” was a title for a courtier who was responsible to help a king to use a toilet.
When we say toilet, we refer to this portable commode, that the groom had to carry around at all times. The role consisted of emptying the commode, cleaning it and helping the king to wipe his bottom.
Obviously, this was a very dirty, unsanitary job that could be better or worse depending on the king’s meals that day and his resulting bowel movements.
This was definitely not a job for a child and not even an adult.
New York City's Hamilton Fish Park
In New York City, after 1897, the Parks Department starting constructing small parks in densely populated areas of the city.
In the following years, the Outdoor Recreation League built playgrounds in undeveloped parks using temporary equipment and facilities.
One of those locales was Hamilton Fish Park.
The photo shows the swing area at the playground after the completion of the park in 1900.
Besides the playground, a small gymnasium was also built.
The Hamilton Fish Park Gymnasium is among the most famous small buildings in New Your City. The building is the only “survivor” of the original park plan.
Heroin for the Kids
In 1898, Bayer Pharmaceutical Products was responsible for inventing one of the most notorious narcotics in the world – the heroin.
This drug was promoted and sold as a substitute for codeine and morphine, and it was believed that heroin was much better a safer version of those two options.
It was given to everybody who suffered from even common cold, including children.
People were very enthusiastic about heroin as a miracle remedy, and by 1899 there were stories that some of the consumers were building up a tolerance to the drug.
Of course, the number of addicts rose and heroin was finally banned in 1913.
Swinging the Plank
Swings have been popular for centuries.
Drawings and sculptures of children and women on swings have been found that date back to 1450 B.C.
The rich used them in Europe for entertainment, and for not only the children. Over the centuries swings have been made from different materials and in different fashions.
This plank swing gave more than one child a chance to play and provided a lesson in working together.
A few of us can remember swings similar to this at county fairs where we were strapped in and tried to swing so high and hard that the plank would actually go all the way around.
During the latter part of the 20th century, this type of swing lost its appeal.
Fireworks for All
And the award to one of the most dangerous things that kids played with in the early 1900s goes to:
Nowadays, the use of pyrotechnics is usually stiffly regulated, and no parent would let their kids play with them without their supervision.
Unfortunately, this was not a case 50 years ago.
In those days, firecrackers were much more than simple fun, as they were more powerful and it was easier to get badly hurt.
Many children lost their hearing, and a huge number were severely injured from mishandling rockets.
Unfortunately, some kids were even killed while playing with fireworks and blasting caps.
Adults Were Pleading for These Playground Staples
After more than 90 years an old book that contains illustrations and photos of the first playgrounds’ slides and swings has been found.
The book, “A Plea for Children’s Recreation after School Hours and after School Age,” was written by Charles Wicksteed and published in 1928.
Wicksteed’s playground inventions were first put in place at Wicksteed Park in Kettering, Northamptonshire.
At that time, this was a major change for the parks as in many areas children were originally forbidden from even walking on the grass.
The playground in Wicksteed Park included slides, swings, plank swings, a traveling ring frame and outdoor gymnastic sets.
This first children’s playground quickly became the most popular park in the country and and inspiration for other cities to invest in fun and relaxation.
Mudlarking in the River Thames
If you wanted to survive as a child of the working class during the 1700 and 1800s, you did not have many options except begging or doing some of the most unpleasant jobs — like being mudlark (which was also a slang word for ‘pig’).
At that time, many kids were unskilled, very poor and living in the street.
Being a mudlark (otherwise known as a river finder) consisted of scavenging the river Thames when there was a low tide.
Little boys would go into filth trying to find something to re-use or re-purpose. Most of these boys were between 6 and 15 years old, and sometimes even girls worked as mudlarks. What a terrible job!
Source: Mudlarks of the 1700 and 1800s
Danger Was Fun Back Then
When you look at this picture, it seems like children today are definitely not the same as they were in the 1900s.
When comparing children from then to children in the 21st century, it might look less like physical exercises but, on the other hand, playgrounds have become safer for children and a lot less like a military boot camp.
However, on the downside, children today are afraid to try something like this just for fun.
Injuries from falls and accidents on these older playgrounds actually happened about the same rate as they are today.
Splinters in the Butt
These slides from Wicksteed Park built in the early 1920s that we can see in the photo look primitive compared to today’s standards.
Made from wood and partially “sunken” into the ground, you can bet there were a lot of splinters in butts and hands regardless of the craftsmen’s mastery.
In his book, Wicksteed explained that he made separate slides for girls and boys.
He eventually realized that separating the sexes is not a good idea, same as limiting access to the playground to people of a certain age.
Anything Could Be a Toy
All inventors, scientists, artists — they were all kids once.
Through innocent games and ideas, they trained their minds for big things.
The same is perhaps happening with these two.
With plans in those beautiful heads, they are determined to make their own playground, their own world with their rules.
They collected a few old used tires, several pairs of boots and let the games begin!
Well… we definitely have to use our imaginations to envision this playground today, but we’re pretty sure those boys were masters of reusing old things long before recycling become world’s concern.
Back in the day, children didn’t need expensive toys to play, learn and have fun. They used the power of imagination.
Sending Kids Into Mines
Let us go back to the poor Victorian era once again.
As we already mentioned, at that time it was very normal to see a child working, no matter how young they might have been.
Children did many jobs, and almost all of them were dirty, hard and quite terrible, not just for kids, even for the adults.
Some of those children worked in mines, even though they were just five years old.
They were expected to do their job the same as the adults did, only for less money.
It is almost unimaginable to see those small children working in the underground in the most awful conditions, but here we have the visual proof.
Source: Children in Mines
Go Eat a Toad
The “fun” side of the Victorian era included the job of the toad-eaters.
During the 1700s, people were convinced that all frogs were poisonous and that you could die if you ate one.
Both children and adults were employed to pretend to, or even actually eat, a toad. This was a common practice and an easy money for the con men in those times.
The toad eaters had to ingest a toad or pretend to eat it, and then collapse in a shivering heap, after which they would be given medicine.
They would miraculously be fine after a minute of playing things up for the spectacle. It was hardly a fun job, or even a fun show to watch.
No Boys Allowed
Today it is hard to imagine little girls on the playground playing with absolutely no boys around. Ever.
During the early 1900s, in some areas, girls had their own playground separate from the boys. This particular image is of a girls playground located on Harriet Island, St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1905.
During this period, physical activity during school was more focused on the agility and coordination required for the daily life at that time.
The ropes, poles and rings were all a part of daily life for children growing up in rural areas where their routine tasks required this type of agility.
If you are easily disgusted, then the job of vomit collector will horrify you.
This job actually exists even today, where people who work in amusement parks have to clean floors and rides after the crazy trips.
Some people just can not handle turns and twists on rides like what you put your stomach through on a rollercoaster.
A long time ago, the job of vomit collector was given to young Roman slaves who had to clean the room after guests and the emperor would vomit in order to make room for more food.
Swingin' High and Outside
This photo from the early 1920s shows what is believed to be the world’s first playground swing at Wicksteed Park in Kettering, Northamptonshire.
It was designed and engineered by Charles Wicksteed, initially made for his park and later he started exporting them around the world.
There were several sets of swings placed at Wicksteed Park. The tripod and support pipe structures were made from iron.
The seats were made from plastic and attached to the twisted linked chains. The swings were grouped in the sets of two, three and four. The sets were 2.5, 3 and 3.6 meters (eight, ten and twelve feet) high.
The children of today would probably think twice before using the swings of old.
Pit Bulls and Goats
Many people are afraid of dogs and some dogs are considered to be dangerous and vicious, especially pit bulls.
It is hard to believe that pit bull was for a long time a “Nanny Dog” and was loved by many. This beautiful dog was the national dog of the U.S.
Even though they are seen as aggressive, this is not in their nature. Pit Bulls are actually the second-most tolerant breed after the golden retriever. Their bite is not the most powerful one, and they are a great company for children.
Sadly, these dogs had a lot of bad press, which led people to think that is not safe to have them as a pet, let alone to keep them near the kids.
So here we have a case in this photo where the dog isn’t really the concern, it’s more the goats that look like they could bolt at any minute.
Source: More Vintage Child Safety
The Dreaded Skateboard
Since the first skateboards were made in the 1940s, this fun-to-ride deck has been one the most popular disciplines, not just among adults but also children.
Skateboarding is fun, and it can save you a lot of time by foot-powering yourself to a destination.
Before there were public skateparks, kids mostly skated down streets around their neighborhood, which can be quite dangerous.
Because it is so fun to ride, kids tend to forget how easily they could cross paths with a car, especially because skateboards can reach pretty decent speeds — especially if you are going downhill.
Source: The History of Skateboarding
Kids in Cars Not Wearing Seatbelts
Just a couple of decades ago, some vintage cars did not have seat belts.
When cars showed up on the scene in 1885, seat belts were the last thing on anyone’s mind.
For classic cars today (and we’re talking classic being anything from the 1940s and ’50s) if you wanted one it had to be ordered in as an extra for whatever car toy had (or have).
Fortunately for us, using seatbelts became a legal requirement in 1983.
This these lax regulations affected children as well, as they had to bounce around in the back seat without having a seatbelt.
Even though most of those vintage cars are extremely beautiful, they were not very safe for their drivers or children in the back.
The Child Acrobats
Some children are just fearless, like this little girl in Finchley. She has no fear of falling or being dropped on the ground by her young friends.
In 1954, children’s playgrounds were much less safe places for kids to play, and even though they seemed to have fun, this was a very dangerous game.
Most parents would be horrified if they were to ever see their child doing something like this. Without parental supervision, they could get badly hurt in an instant.
The playground equipment from the 1900s is definitely a horror story for every parent in the world. Luckily for us, everything has changed since then — especially the playgrounds.
The Standing Car Seat
Back in the 1970s, the vintage cars did not have any seat belts.
Kids would sit in the back freely, bouncing and playing despite the grave danger of accidentally opening a door and falling out.
Today, we are very familiar with the consequences, and how important it is to secure your child in their seat.
The standing harness in the image was invented as a security measure for accidental door opening.
Unfortunately, as you can see, this standing seat was far from safe. Kids could easily get harmed if there was in an accident. This invention was definitely a bad idea.
Source: Vintage Child Safety – Number 3
Sebastian Hinton, son of mathematician Charles Howard Hinton, saw the children playing at his wife’s school in 1920 and had the idea to build them something to play on.
As a child, his father built a small dome out of bamboo poles in order to teach his children math skills.
Remembering climbing on this as a child Sabastian wrote the idea down on a napkin and soon after submitted a patent request.
The patented name was “The Jungle Gym” and has changed through time to “Monkey Bars” which refers to the type of play noticed when observing monkeys.
Most of us today can remember climbing all over these things in every schoolyard, public playground, and some lucky kids even had their own at home.
The High-Seated Tricycle
Before the bicycle, there was the tricycle.
Through history, tricycles have changed a lot, and by 1884 alone there almost 30 different types.
The first three-wheeled vehicle was based on the shape and characteristics of the carriage.
With some changes and additional mechanisms, tricycles became popular worldwide as they allowed much easier propulsion.
Children were crazy about them, even though the first ones were very slow and difficult to pedal. The particular type that you see in the picture had one large front wheel and 2 smaller back wheels where a second person could also step on and ride.
It is safe to say that it was very easy to fall from this antique bike.
Construction Site or Playground?
At first glance, this looks like construction on some building site.
This is a playground in Hiawatha from the early 1900s.
Most of the parents today would not let their children get even close to such a playground. It is dangerous, not safe. But is it really that unsafe?
Look at those boys climbing on the slides. Yes, back then that was how slides were made. Only metal poles. No fears from the height, falling or failing. Only excitement and fun. Kids had skills of a real athlete.
And as the Latin phrase says:
“A healthy mind in a healthy body” (Mens sana in corpore sano).
The Vomiting Baby Solution
If your child bothers you while you are diving, then simply seat them outside of the car.
The story behind this image happened around the mid-1960s when the baby in the picture unfortunately had acid reflux which made the poor child puke a lot.
His parents came up to the idea to hang him in that chair after he ate.
This way they prevented the baby from vomiting in the car while they were driving. This image shows a dangerous situation in so many ways.
Just in a split second baby could have been harmed. Today this kind of creative thinking is usually reserved for people wanting to make a viral video.
Source: Vintage Child Safety
Playing in Mud up to Your Waist
If you are a little bit older there is a good chance that you might have played in the mud when you were a child, except if you lived in Gorbals District in Glasgow during the 1900s.
Playing in the south bank of the river Clyde was not particularly fun.
The city was beautiful but also unbelievably filthy. All around the town, streets were full of garbage and covered with mud, especially in the housing slums area.
It was not exactly a pleasant place for children to live. Now if think about playing in the mud, it does not seem appealable, doesn’t it?
The San Diego Normal School Playground
As can be seen in this photo of the San Diego Normal School playground, taken around 1900, the sky was the limit.
Playgrounds then were not built to be safe but, instead, to provide the children equipment to explore and push their limits.
Accidents probably did happen but the children were just told to be more careful and get back at it.
One thing or sure is that the children had no fear of heights.
Slides were two poles slanted to the ground in an approx 45-degree angle and could only be reached by a ladder on the opposite side that was also slanted.
The top of the “slide” was attached to the top of the swing that was between 5.5 and 6 meters (18 and 20 feet) from the ground.
Opium Sleeping Drops
After a cocaine toothache drops, there is also this terrifying ad for Stickney & Poor’s Paregoric Opium.
If your baby could not fall asleep you could easily drug her or him with just a couple of drops.
Many parents can be quite exhausted taking care of their child or trying to put them to sleep.
Seriously, though — is it really necessary to actually drug them with a mixture of alcohol and opium? Definitely not.
Like the ad states, if you wanted to make a newborn sleep you needed five drops, for a two-week-old child you could give them eight drops, but if an adult wanted to relax and fall asleep faster they could take a full teaspoon.
Fortunately, like many early 20th century drug medicines, this is something you haven’t seen on the shelves in eons.
The Pimlico Death Trap
The 1900s were a nightmare for playgrounds.
All the equipment was dangerous, more suitable for stuntmen then for a child.
Some of the playgrounds, like this one in Pimlico in London, were like big peg tops made of cement.
A couple of meters high and with a huge incline, this playground is hardly a place where children should play.
Instead of being a place where kids could develop their physical skills and stay in good shape, it looks more like an unsecured cement contraption.
Fortunately for us, technology advanced and these playgrounds are more appropriate for children born in the 21st century.
Squires for Hire
Being a servant to a knight was a very tough job during medieval times.
Young boys who would assist them were called squires.
Before you could become one, you needed to be a page for seven years. The position was looked at as a big step to becoming a man.
The boys had to do many things for their knights, like waiting tables, guarding horses, assisting the knight with getting dressed, cleaning the armor and weapons and running errands.
Besides all those responsibilities, a squire also had to present themselves on tournaments and accompany their knight during the battlefield.
It was definitely a hard and exhausting job for anyone, let alone a teenager.
Extreme Rope Climbing
A lot of things have been changed on children’s playgrounds since this photo was taken sometime in the early 1900s.
Playgrounds have become safer, but parents have also become a little overprotective of their children.
Often you can see them around playgrounds, watching their children like hawks and warning them about “possible danger” while they are playing.
Can you imagine the reaction of today’s parents seeing their children climbing on more than 3-meter-high (10 feet) suspended ladders, like those in the photo?
Was this rope climbing dangerous? Of course it was.
The debate really is whether it was worse to fall off or suffer the rope burns from sliding down one after scaling to the very top.
Sliding Into Fun
This multiple lane slide was built from the overhanging roof of the Emporium Department Store in 1968.
Beginning in the 1940s up until the late 1980s the Emporium had a number of rooftop activities.
Sadly, the Emporium closed in 1996 after opening in 1896 as a high-end shopping center.
A new and improved Emporium building opened in 1908 had 72,000 square meters (775,000 square feet) of floor space and a glass dome that was 33.5 meters (110 feet) above street level.
In 1949, 63 orphans from Mt. St. Joseph’s School were invited there as guests to enjoy a carnival on the rooftop that included a merry-go-round, a Ferris wheel, roto-cars and a Big Dipper ride