Like most things, our sense of what is fun, what counts as recreation, has shifted and evolved. The final emergence of the slide in what is more-or-less its modern form, in the late 1860s, was no different.
A reaction to the shock of industrialization, the metal slide was purely visceral, vaguely mechanical and a solitary, not social, entertainment. It was, in other words, a refashioning of the new industrial mode of relaxation. Humanity, the Victorian moralizers said, was fallen and corrupt; machines, however, were purposeful and pure. And so the amusement parks they built were full of high, twisting slides and roller-coasters and other machines: a new, more virtuous brand of fun, the implication was.
The smaller playground slide followed the same course. As child labor was outlawed and compulsory education took its place, playgrounds sprung up in response to concerns that children, no longer working, needed somewhere to go to keep them out of trouble. Slides, and the sense of vital danger that going down one engenders in the slider, were excellent substitutes for the temptations of the streets.
And so, conceived as recreation and mostly associated now with childhood, the slide has remained in the popular imagination as a frivolous thing. The exception is the emergency slide on planes and, sometimes, buildings, which makes explicit its vertiginous mix of fun and danger. It was four of these, attached to a home for the elderly that I passed on my way to school every day as a child, that first attracted me to slides. The slides made perfect sense as a practical means of escape and were visually striking, curving out onto the grass.