Otto T. Mallery

Otto T. Mallery

Otto Tod Mallery, known as the “Father of Recreation in Philadelphia,” was an economist, “citizen volunteer,” and leader in the local, national, and international recreation movement of the early 20th century.1 Calling him “farseeing, statesmanlike, and devoted,”2 Howard S. Braucher further characterized him as “one of the great leaders in the recreation movement nationally and locally in Philadelphia … What he did in planning (this trip) was characteristic of his pioneer, creative way of thinking and acting. In his own life he has embodied the recreation spirit and he has been supremely gifted in interpreting it to others.”3

Born in 1881 at Willets Point, New York, Otto graduated in 1902 with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Princeton University in New Jersey. He continued to study economics at both Columbia University in New York City and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In 1907, six months after the Playground Association of America was formed, Otto assisted in forming the Philadelphia Playground Association, a private recreation agency.4 Two years later Otto spread the play movement into the public arena by persuading the mayor of Philadelphia to establish the Public Playgrounds Commission. Within this Commission a Playgrounds Committee was formed to develop and manage public playgrounds and indoor and outdoor recreation centers. Otto served as secretary of the city Playgrounds Committee, as well as serving on committees of both the Philadelphia Playground Association and the national Playground Association of America.

Beginning in 1910 Otto became the treasurer of the Philadelphia Playground Association, a position he held for 15 years. On the city front, by 1912 the Public Playgrounds Commission was replaced by a Board of Recreation, a broader entity for which Otto served as secretary for three years until 1915. Also beginning in 1912, Otto served on the board of the Playground Association of America. Thus he had influence with the playgrounds and recreation for both the public and private playgrounds of Philadelphia as well as in the national playground movement.

Political maneuvering on the part of the mayor of Philadelphia, which Otto publicly decried, led eventually to the Board of Recreation being abolished and the Bureau of Recreation being established within the city's Department of Public Welfare. Otto assisted in the establishment and stability of the Bureau, though it remained “ineffective and politically dominated.”5 Eventually, in 1951, the city charter was revised to include a Department of Recreation, an improvement that Otto was instrumental in achieving.

In reflecting on his own raising, Otto felt that the needs of the children were left out of city planning. He remembered trying to “play football in an alley paved with cobblestones and to roller skate on brick sidewalks.”6 These experiences fueled his passion to ensure that this need for children to have safe and satisfactory places to play was a part of municipal planning.

While the city was mired in politics, the Philadelphia Playground Association was expanding to include city-wide projects. In 1925 Otto became president of the association and he brought Charles English to Philadelphia to be its executive secretary.7 They broadened the services offered to include such programs as art appreciation, music festivals, costumed storytellers, “tot-lot” playgrounds, learn-to-swim courses, and safe-coasting hills.8 Previously Otto had been the chairman of the Commission on the Enrichment of Adult Life of the National Education Association and believed in and promoted the emerging field of adult education.

Looking to the future, Otto predicted the creation of the professional field of recreation leadership. He declared, “Anyone is hopelessly out of date who maintains that education is everything above the neck and recreation is everything below the neck. It is the whole man that gets educated and the whole man who has a satisfying time—the whole man or none of him.”9

Following the trend to include the broader scope of recreation, the Philadelphia Playground Association was renamed in 1946 to become the Philadelphia Recreation Association and their mission expanded to “to manage, direct, and/or operate any recreation projects for the benefit of the public.”10 Two years later, in 1948, Otto, at the age of 67, retired and was given the status of Chairman Emeritus. He had served for over 40 years, 23 years of which were as president.

On the national level during these same decades, Otto served on the Playground Association of America board, presented national papers, and assisted in preparing National Recreation Congress programs. During his time on the board, the Playground Association became first the Playground and Recreation Association of America in the mid-1910s and then the National Recreation Association by 1930. In 1951 Otto became Chairman of the Board.

As an economist, Otto wrote the pamphlet Prosperity Reserves that was published April 1, 1929, six months before the stock market crash that began the Great Depression, and in December of that same year he published the book How to Keep the Wheels Turning.11 In 1937 he was an economic adviser to the United States delegation to the International Labor Office. He had also served as a senior business specialist of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Consultant to the National Resources Planning board, and a member of the Advisory Committee of the National Youth Administration.12

Even before the end of World War II, Otto was publishing about peace through his book, Economic Union and Durable Peace (1943). Shortly after the war ended he published More Than Conquerors: Building Peace on Fair Trade (1947).13 Besides using economic policies to bring peace, he also felt that recreation, as a common need, could assist the peace process. He was the “prime mover” in establishing the International Recreation Association that was “dedicated to bringing people of various nations together on the basis of those things upon which they can agree.”14

The International Recreation Association was officially incorporated on October 3, 1956 with a vision statement written by Otto: “Here in this city of Philadelphia we proclaimed our freedom and independence over one hundred and fifty years ago. In that proclamation 'the pursuit of happiness' was singled out as one of the rights and goals of American citizens. Today, in launching the International Recreation Association, we are proclaiming that right for all mankind. We worked and sacrificed for it in the United States. I believe, under this organization, leaders in the far corners of the earth will join together in unity for the same end.”15

At this time Otto added being on the board of the fledgling International Recreation Association to being Chairman of the Board of the National Recreation. At the end of November, the city of Philadelphia, hosted a luncheon to give Otto a special award and name him the “Father of Recreation in Philadelphia.” They also renamed one of their best playgrounds in his honor. Two weeks later, while taking an evening stroll, Otto was struck by a car and killed. He was nearly 76 years old.

Thirty five years later in 1991, he was inducted into the National Recreation and Park Association's Hall of Fame. In his typical “deference and humility,” Otto deflected the many honors he received during his life by acknowledging the role of all volunteers, “The ultimate strength of the National Recreation Association lies in the devotion and civic spirit of thousands of lay men and women on boards, committees, and foundations who steadily hold the line and keep advancing it.”16 In this, Otto T. Mallery was a prime example.

  • 1. Hartsoe, Charlie E., M. Douglas Sanders, and Meredith Bridgers. Profiles in Leadership. Champaign, IL: Sagamore Publishing, LLC, 2009. pp. 78, 81.
  • 2. “Otto Tod Mallery.” Recreation. January 1957. at Internet Archive. < > 14 Feb. 2013.
  • 3. Butler, George D. Pioneers in Public Recreation. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing Company. 1965. pp.85-86.
  • 4. Op.cit., “Otto Tod Mallery.” Recreation.
  • 5. Op.cit., Butler. p. 85.
  • 6. Op.cit., Butler. pp. 86-87.
  • 7. Op.cit., Butler. p. 85.
  • 8. Op.cit., Hartsoe. p. 79.
  • 9. Op.cit., Butler. p. 86.
  • 10. Op.cit., Butler. p. 86.
  • 11. “Otto Tod Mallery.” unz. < > 13 Feb. 2013.
  • 12. Op.cit., “Otto Tod Mallery.” Recreation.
  • 13. Op.cit., “Otto Tod Mallery.” unz.
  • 14. Op.cit., “Otto Tod Mallery.” Recreation.
  • 15. “The Launching of the International Recreation Association.” Recreation. January 1957. at Internet Archive. < > 14 Feb. 2013.
  • 16. Op.cit., Hartsoe. p. 78.