The History of the Porch Swing
Emotion acts like a highlighter that emphasizes certain aspects of experiences to make them more memorable.
Have you ever wondered why some pieces of furniture are more memorable than others? For instance, when I think of my childhood, I don’t recall much about our couch or dining room set, but I have many fond memories of my brother and I jumping on our bunkbeds or sitting like book ends on either side of my Dad in his favorite recliner. But my most fond furniture related memories involve summer evenings eating smores and telling knock-knock jokes while sitting on my Aunt Hazel’s porch swing.
As far as memorable pieces of furniture go, the porch swing tends to rank high on the list for a lot of folks. I decided to conduct some informal research and when I asked people about memories involving porch swings, almost everyone had a story to tell. And the stories almost always start with a grin or a faraway look in the eyes as people relive happy moments from the past.
A porch is a porch. But a porch with a porch swing is a PORCH! Am I right?
It’s the reason why we hear about porch swings in country songs and see them as focal points in movies. In fact, some of my favorite beach reads describe serene, tranquil spaces with Victorian porches and quiet, relaxing porch swings. Porch swings evoke strong feelings of happiness, peace, comfort, and tranquility. At times, swings can also be the places we go to when we need to clear our heads or heal our hearts.
But why are porch swings so meaningful and memorable, and why does the mere thought conjure such strong feelings and emotions? To answer this question, I decided it might be worth doing a little digging into the origins of the porch swing, to find out where it all began.
So, sit back (preferably on a porch swing) and listen to what I discovered about our favorite piece of swinging furniture.
As American as apple pie, baseball, and porch swings
Swings date back to 1450 BC and are common all over the world, and while some say the porch swing originated from the concept of playground equipment, and the creation is credited to a British Engineer in the 1900’s, others say the front porch and the porch swing are of American origin.
In the U.S., the popularity of the porch swing is closely tied to the evolution of the front porch, which became immensely popular in the U.S. from the 1880’s until around the 1940’s. These were the years of new neighborhoods and shortened workdays, and an era when taking time to sit with your family in the evening and watch the world go by, was a treasured experience.
The functional design of the front porch evolved and ended up being a catalyst to the ideal American town as gathering on front porches created a feeling of community and family.
During this exciting time of intentional socializing, houses were built with front porches that connected the inside of the home to the activity on streets and neighborhoods.
For families to truly get the most out of a porch, furniture and decorations were a must and while rocking chairs were a popular choice, nothing could compete with the swinging tranquility and relaxing enjoyment of the front porch swing.
By the 1950’s, the popularity of hanging out on the front porch began to wane. Many historians point to increased access to automobiles that provided a new method for socializing and reduced the need to sit outside the home waiting for neighbors to stroll past. The rise in homes with air conditioning units also meant families no longer had to escape their stuffy homes to enjoy the cooler evening air. But the most likely culprit largely responsible for the change in how families spent their evenings, was the popularity of new indoor forms of entertainment such as the radio and the television set.
During this same time, backyards, back porches, and patios were rising in popularity, as people began to seek more privacy. In response, home builders began to phase out the front porch, replacing them with small stoops, landings, or porticos.
Thankfully, the versatility of the porch swing, which can be hung from nearly anywhere that will support them, allowed the porch swing to move from the front of the house to back porches and patios. Arbors, A-frames, and tree branches can all accommodate a variety of swings and the popularity of indoor swings and beds are also on the rise.
Today, porch swing popularity is alive and well and even seems to be on the rise, as so many of us are spending more time at home these days. Nothing beats a long day of zoom meetings like getting out of the house for some fresh air and quality time with family and neighbors.
Though large, spacious front porches aren’t nearly as popular as they once were, they are making a comeback. And with the front porch, comes the porch swing.
Here are a few of my favorite traditional and modern porch swing designs:
Whether you love a traditional design or a more evolved, modern version of a porch swing, swing bed, or day bed, knowing the history helps us link the porch swings of today with a feeling of family and community of the past.
This explains why so many memories associated with porch swings evoke strong feelings of warmth and belonging. These memories are connected to a piece of furniture that represents family, neighborhoods, and community and is rooted in our heritage as parents, friends, neighbors, and members of the community.
Now, when I reflect on my childhood memories and picture the front porch swing on my Aunt’s wrap-around, farmhouse porch, I envision scenes that took place long before me. I imagine other families, enjoying the evening air, talking to neighbors, and relaxing at the end of a long day of work. I didn’t think it was possible, but because of this connection to a time long ago, I think I now cherish these memories even more.
Do you have a favorite memory that involves a porch swing? I would love to hear from you and about what comes to your mind when you think about a favorite porch swing memory in your past or present!