Archive 2008 - 2019

Childlife and Play Specialty - A Holliston Business (Part I)

by Shirley White Nelson

As far back as I can remember there was a swing hanging in our house; in some doorway, or on the porch, often with a trapeze and rings connected above it. Passing through you might decide to stop and chin yourself, or hang by your knees, or swing for a little while, or maybe you’d just like to stand there and think of all the possibilities.

In the 1920’s, my father, Arnold L. White, was a salesman for Busy Kiddy, manufactured by the Home Swing & Gym Company of New York City. For my dad, this was a one man, house to house, knock on the door kind of business, carried out in a Model T Ford in the surrounding towns of New Jersey where we lived.

The whole thing – swing trapeze, rings, ropes, chains, and a doorway hanger – fit into a cardboard box 18 inches long, 7 inches wide, and 6 inches deep tucked under my father’s arm. Such a lot crammed into such a little space. The back of our car often contained applications such as ladders, slides, and boxing equipment.

The business continued with expanded territory in 1932, after our family moved from New Jersey to Holliston. My father now knocked on doors all over New England. The cars we owned changed, but the product remained the same: an indoor gym set.


That was both its charm and its inherent problem, because, oddly enough, not everyone wanted a swing or trapeze hanging in the doorway between their dining and living rooms.

So, from the start, my father began experimenting with an outdoor use of the equipment. In 1928, he built a simple frame for the swing, trapeze, and rings. We were living on Miller Hill in Holliston in the late 30’s when I watched him construct an 18-inch-high model out of wood, this one with the addition of a ladder on one side and a climbing rope on the other. He painted it green and put it in our rock garden.

Though it was still a dream, I think at that point Childlife and Play Specialty was born. 

*This story is part one of a two part series. Look for part two coming soon!

Comments (3)

I loved reading about the "birth" of the Childlife swing set. I drove up with my father from Connecticut when I was a child to get ours, and I spent many happy hours on it. I loved being on the ladder across the top, especially when my siblings were swinging below me! I have thought back to those idyllic days on our swing set many times. Thanks for bringing it all back this afternoon!

Mary Curran | 2016-07-31 14:08:02

I love this piece! Miller Hill - the birth place of so many great stories! Looking forward to part 2. Thanks for this, Theresa

Theresale Lamkin | 2016-07-30 05:17:08

I worked for Arnold in the mid to late Fifties, and helped him with the manufacture and installation of the swing sets. In one of the above pictures, my daughter Amy is on the swing, and my daughter Karen is on the ladder. This picture was featured in one of the Child Life and Play Specialties catalogues. Thanks for bringing back pleasant memories! Pete

Pete Butler | 2016-07-29 05:13:00