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One of the most ubiquitous structures associated with playgrounds around the world is the classic metal swing set. This is because they are sturdy, affordable, and genuinely fun for all ages. Towering swing sets dominate the playground landscape so much that no play area seems complete without them. What few people realize, however, is that swings have been around for thousands of years in one form or another.

The Ancient Swing

The earliest depictions of primitive swing sets are evidencing only through artwork, dating back to the ancient Minoan civilization.  For those less versed in the bronze-age, that puts swing sets farther back than the Greeks and the Romans!  

Ancient Chinese precursor to Metal Swing SetsThe Spring and Autumn period of China saw the earliest use of swings as utilities.  Re-purposing ropes that had already been hanging from the years’ lantern festival, provincial landowners fashioned the ropes into a swing for collecting fruit and flowers from the trees.   However, like their counterparts to the West, the Chinese quickly found swing sets to be more fun than useful.

Through the 5th century, Greek vase painters depicted swinging as wooden slabs dangling from rope, or possibly even tree branches.  Unlike most Greek sport, which stressed masculine supremacy and aggressive competition, swings were a leisure activity, enjoyed primarily by women and children

The Western Swing

During the Renaissance, women of status were often depicted lounging on swings.  The image evoked privilege, playfulness, and sometimes sensuality.  Decorative garden swings became a high-demand luxury item, reaching their zenith in the Romantic Era of Byron and Shelley.  Swings appeared in several paintings and poems during that period.

In the early days of the American colonies, pioneers needed a simple contraption to keep their children entertained while they worked outside.  Swings required little more than spare wood, rope, and a sturdy tree branch.  For many children, swing sets were the sole form of entertainment in the old frontier.

These designs were gradually modified and improved upon throughout the years, and with the advent of automobiles, the tire swing offered a whole new range of motion for adventurous youths.

The Modern Swing

The 20th century saw the swing’s evolution inextricably linked to the playground as a whole.  Around the time that playgrounds were imported to the U.S., engineers designed structures specifically for swings.  Large metal posts replaced the trees of old, hoisting pairs of swings in what became known as the first official swing sets.

The first metal swing sets came with the industrial revolution It was also around this time that steel-working became a booming industry and anything that could be metal was metal.  Naturally, the flimsy ropes and vines were discarded in favor of sturdy chain-links and hangers, paving the way for a faster, smoother, and most importantly safer experience for kids.

The first large metal swing said to resemble the kind found on modern playgrounds was believed to have been built in Wicksteed Park in the U.K, in the year 1923. These swings were dangerously tall, but after some changes they evolved into the familiar style that we all know and love.  Today, most commercial swing sets are made from metal, because it is highly durable and requires minimal maintenance.

The Metal Swing

When people think of swing sets, they usually picture the classic model with four legs and a top rail. But while most metal swing set plans and designs are similar, there is actually a surprising variety of different types of metal swing sets for sale.  They range from basic, unadorned models to extravagant designs of metal swing sets with monkey bars and slide attachments. The diversity of these designs allows customers to find the ideal swing set for whoever will be using it. While some designs, like the aforementioned metal swing sets with monkey bars, are clearly made for children, this is not always the case.

Although somewhat less common, there are also metal swing sets for adults, designed to go faster and higher than those which are typically appropriate for children.

Choosing a Swing Set

While it is easy to find new metal swing sets on sale, finding used metal swing sets for sale is often more difficult. This is because people rarely replace entire swing sets at once, but rather upgrade individual pieces at a time. For example, if brackets fall into disrepair, they can simply be exchanged for new ones without needing to scrap the entire structure. The interchangeability of metal swing set hardware makes repairs and upgrades simple.

Wooden swings, on the other hand, are not so simple. Their wooden beams, no matter how well they are treated, are bound to decay over time. Sooner or later, termites, fire, or water damage will take their toll. And once one beam starts to fall apart, a wooden swing set can be almost impossible to repair, since fitting beams are not sold individually as metal swing set replacement parts are. Because of this, it may be easier to find an entire used wooden swing set or playgrounds for sale, but these deals should be viewed with caution.

To be clear—the purpose of this article was not to denounce and disparage the use of non-metal swings. A wooden bench swing on a quiet porch or in a garden is the pinnacle of idle relaxation. Tree-mounted rope swings and tire swings also have a certain irreplaceable charm in their simplicity. But in dealing with commercial swing sets, metal reigns supreme.

Compared to the millennia-spanning history of swing sets, they are a very recent innovation, but in their short lifetime, they have almost completely eclipsed other varieties because of their strength and versatility.