Despite my personal aversion to ball pits everywhere (don’t people pee in them?!), what started out as a response to child-abduction fears in the 1970s remains a hugely popular play activity among children and adults alike. At Vox, Elena Goukassian reports on how the ball pit — a staple piece of equipment in indoor play centers — was born in the safety-conscious 1970s, long before helicopter and lawnmower/snowplow parenting became a thing.

While Ontario Place launched McMillan’s serendipitous career in playground design, contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t the site of the very first ball pit (although it would house one later). According to McMillan, that honor belongs to the ball crawl he installed in 1976 at SeaWorld Captain Kids World in San Diego, another of a handful of theme parks McMillan designed — his most famous being Sesame Place on the outskirts of Philadelphia, which opened in 1980, complete with a giant, ball pit called The Count’s Ball Room. (80,000 plastic balls… mwa ha ha ha ha.)

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