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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Celebrating 100 years of the jungle gym

The first Jungle Gym at the Winnetka Historical Society on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018.  (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune)
By Alex Hulvalchick Chicago Tribune

The year 2023 marks 100 years since former Winnetka, Illinois, resident Sebastian Hinton patented his “climbing gym” for children, a playground staple that would later be known as the jungle gym.

“Almost every child has climbed on, crawled under or fell off a jungle gym,” Executive Director of the Winnetka Historical Society Mary Trieshmann said. “Since we’ve announced the 100 year anniversary of the jungle gym and posted photographs, hundreds of people have shared their visceral memories with us of this simple, sturdy play structure that lived on almost every school playground and/or public park across the country.”

According to a news release from the Winnetka Historical Society, Hinton pitched the idea during a 1920 dinner party at the home of former Winnetka School Board member Edward Yeoman. An array of educators attended the dinner where Hinton spoke with the former Winnetka Schools Superintendent Carleton Washburne about his idea for a climbing frame for his children.

The idea was inspired by Hinton’s childhood in Japan. His father, a mathematician who invented the baseball pitching machine, had built a bamboo cube framework structure in their yard for his children to learn about 3D figures. Instead, Hinton and his siblings spent a majority of their time climbing on the gym. He wanted to give his children the same experience home in Winnetka.

Washburne was intrigued by Hinton’s plans and he, alongside former North Shore Country Day School’s headmaster Perry Dunlap Smith, worked through the night at Hinton’s home to design a prototype, according to the news release. A first drafted build was installed at North Shore Country Day School where the children enjoyed it and the designers could learn how to improve the structure. A final improved version was placed at Horace Mann School.

Unfortunately, Hinton wouldn’t get to see his dream realized as he passed after a long battle with mental illness in April 1923 just five months before the patent was approved. The jungle gym remained at Horace Mann School until the school was demolished in 1940 when it was then moved to Crow Island School. In 2010, the jungle gym was donated to the Winnetka Historical Society where it remains on display.

“The jungle gym’s journey started in Winnetka and we want to honor the creativity of the inventor and the progressive education movement that believed in providing children with opportunities to push themselves physically and mentally, specifically, at their own pace,” Trieshmann said.