Cold War playground equipment

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Rocket Slide in Oskaloosa, Iowa

Cold War playground equipment was intended to foster children's curiosity and excitement about the Space Race. It was installed during the Cold War in both communist and capitalist countries.

United States[edit]

In 1959, Popular Mechanics wrote that a Kiwanis Club in Ontario, California was "in tune with the times" when it erected a three-story rocketship in a local playground.[1]

Around 1962, a 26 ft (7.9 m) high moon rocket was installed in a playground in Calwa, California. The "Calwa Rocket" still stands in the park "as an affectionate symbol of an earlier time", and was designated a heritage property in 2013.[2]

The "space-age shift" in playground design was described in a 1963 issue of Life magazine, which featured Fidel Castro on the cover. A row of tree trunks installed in a Kansas City, Missouri park could elicit "any game an imaginative child might think up", wrote Life, including "an array of ICBMs on a launch pad".[3]

By 1963, Philadelphia had installed 160 space-aged playgrounds, which featured satellites, rockets, and submarines.[3]

Richardson, Texas installed an "atomic playground" in 1965, with a radar tower, Saturn climber, submarine, radar dish, planet climber, and three-story high rocket ship. When the city tried to remove the items in 2008, it was met with local opposition. A task force established to investigate the removal wrote that "as children grow and develop, their playgrounds must evolve to meet ever-changing play needs and interests". The rocket ship had "very little play value", and had "hazardous conditions that present a great danger to young children".[4]

Two companies were noted for their military and space-themed playground equipment: Miracle Equipment Company of Grinnell, Iowa, and Jamison Fantasy Equipment of Los Angeles, California, which manufactured a moon rocket, nautilus submarine, and space slide.[2]

Author Fraser MacDonald wrote "nuclear weapons were made intelligible in, and transposable to, a domestic context" through children's toys and playground equipment featuring Cold War symbols.[5]

Eastern Bloc[edit]

Playgrounds in the Soviet Union were also designed to stimulate children's excitement about space, as this was an ideology supported across Communist states. Eastern Europe "followed the Soviet playgrounds movement and was under the influence of the Cold War fashion".[6]

The success of the Soviet space program was celebrated through monuments, parks and museums. Still today in the village of Baikonur, Kazakhstan, where Yuri Gagarin was launched into orbit in 1961, rocket-shaped playground equipment and other mementos of Soviet space exploration are scattered around the village.[7][8]

Playground equipment—including rockets—was usually mass-produced at large manufacturing plants which tended to follow repetitive designs and patterns. As a result, playgrounds "from Eastern Europe to Russia’s Pacific Coast" often featured identical equipment, with "brutal construction" and "generous use of old tires".[7]



  1. ^ Playground Rocket Ship has Three-Story Cages. Popular Mechanics. July 1959.
  2. ^ a b "Historic Preservation Commission Agenda" (PDF). City of Fresno. June 24, 2013.
  3. ^ a b Playgrounds Take a Space-Age Spin. Life. March 15, 1963.
  4. ^ "Heights Park Master Plan: Playground Task Force Recommendations". Heights Park Playground Task Force. June 16, 2008.
  5. ^ MacDonald, Fraser. "Space and the Atom: On the Popular Geopolitics of Cold War Rocketry." Geopolitics 13 (2008), 611–634.
  6. ^ Stankov, Georgi (Apr 2013). "My Dream Playground Workshop: Involving Children in Participatory Design".
  7. ^ a b Richter, Darmon (December 4, 2014). "The Essential Guide to Soviet Playgrounds: Fun & Games in the USSR". Atlas Obscura.
  8. ^ "In Salvaging Cold War Industries, Russia Trains Eyes on Space". Newsweek. December 26, 2013.

Further reading[edit]

  • Gorman, A.C. Gravity's playground: dreams of spaceflight and the rocket park in Australian culture. In Darran Jordan and Rocco Bosco, eds. Defining the Fringe of Contemporary Australian Archaeology. Pyramidiots, Paranoia and the Paranormal. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2018) pp. 92-107.
  • Orchowski, Lauren. Rocket Science, 2010. A collection of Cold War-era rocketship playgrounds photographed throughout North America from 2004 to 2010.