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The History of McDonald’s PlayPlaces

From the 1970s to the 1990s, many McDonald’s restaurants featured playgrounds. The original McDonald’s playgrounds debuted in the 1970s and were inspired by an Illinois State Fair exhibit called McDonaldland, which featured McDonald’s-branded characters like Officer Big Mac, the Hamburglar, and Mayor McCheese. These early McDonald’s PlayPlaces were outdoors and had some major drawbacks; most notably, they had safety issues. In fact, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission later discovered that McDonald’s had neglected to report many injuries on the equipment. Around the late 1980s and early 1990s, the play areas moved indoors and the featured equipment was updated accordingly. For instance, tube networks were a main feature of most indoor McDonald’s PlayPlaces but weren’t featured in the previous outdoor versions. Safety padding also became a standard feature of McDonald’s indoor play spaces. Some of the older equipment still hung on during the 1990s, though. For example, despite being linked to many injuries, the last Big Mac Climber didn’t disappear until 1997. The indoor playgrounds that took over in the 1990s soon raised health and safety concerns of their own, however, and the Internet made passing horror stories (some true, some false) not only possible, but easy. Still, many PlayPlaces hung on throughout the early 2000s and beyond, but have slowly begun to disappear, in part because kids now spend more time on screens than playing in them. In 2020, all of McDonald’s PlayPlaces closed due to the pandemic. It’s not clear whether they will re-emerge, evolve into something more digitally-oriented, or be relegated to the past.

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