Primer: The History of Rope Play

What comes to mind when thinking of a playground?

Often, it is a multicolored structure with a slide coming from its side, a swing set and monkey bars. However, there is an alternate piece of equipment that is not only inclusive and accessible but also visually stimulating. It inspires balance and coordination, muscle development and strength, problem-solving, imaginative play, and increased self-confidence for every kind of child.

Perhaps the most surprising thing to learn is that this structure is simple and has been around since the 1930s. If you guessed rope-play equipment, you guessed right.

Interestingly enough, a boxer named Joseph Brown is credited with the invention of rope-based play. Joseph left Temple University where he was studying physical education to become a professional boxer in the 1930s. In 1931 after suffering an injury, he returned to school to complete his degree. Seemingly a man of many talents, Joe spent six years as a sculptor before he was hired by Princeton University to train other boxers.

It was in the 1950s that he began to take notice of the importance that movement through sports and play had on the development of young people. He created designs that were termed revolutionary for the time, installing a number of prototypes in Philadelphia and abroad.

Rope play did not take off in the 1950s because Joe did not have the manufacturing capacity to mass produce his equipment. However, his designs are used in today’s popular high rope gardens. It wasn’t until the 1970s that Berliner Seilfabrick picked up his rope-play concept. Berliner then paved the way for today’s rope-based play industry on a commercial basis, designing and mass producing the first net climber.

By Sarah Knight

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