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Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Robert Propst: A Child Volcano and Playground Sculptures

November 30, 2021 Archive Insight
Design line drawing of a organic, sort of dome-shaped structure with an opening at the cone-like top and openings on either side, with children playing on/in it; also contains text

Drawing, "Child Volcano Play Sculpture," 1958-1960 / THF140518

Designer Robert Propst was best known for leading Herman Miller’s development of the Action Office cubicle system. In the mid-1950s, though, he created a number of toy designs, including the Fun Sticks game, a Fun Duck scooter, and the Fun Swing—a piece of playground equipment safety experts might cringe to see in action today.

In 1958, Propst drew up designs for playground sculptures cast in fine cement—no sharp corners in sight—covered in red, yellow, and blue plasticized paint. Park plans show the curiously labeled “Child Volcano” nestled between slides and biomorphic hide-and-seek structures. Inside the volcano’s hollow core, ladder rungs allowed children to climb out the top and tumble down its sides like flowing magma.

Design drawing of playground from above showing a variety of play structures and children using them; also contains text
Drawing, "Park Playground," October 30, 1958. The Child Volcano is the yellow structure in the lower right. / THF623880

Playgrounds seem to contrast with the controlled systems Propst is celebrated for. However, this approach—proposing a spectrum across structured activity and free exploration—not only encouraged creative thinking paramount to learning and growth but informed his vision for flexibility and problem-solving in the office.


Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communications & Information Technology at The Henry Ford. This post was adapted from an article first published in the June–December 2021 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

archives, drawings, design, childhood, Robert Propst, The Henry Ford Magazine, by Kristen Gallerneaux

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