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Carnival Ride History: Part 2

Flying Swings are popular with many age groups.
Flying Swings are popular with many age groups.
China Photos/Getty Images

Now that summer is quickly approaching it is inevitable that traveling fairs and carnivals start to spring up all across the country. Such events are staples of Spring and Summer in the United States, fully equipped with carnival games, prizes and—of course—rides.

Throughout the year, many traveling carnivals appear in towns all over the world and a lot of them include amusement rides. Attending carnivals has been a favorite activity among people for decades and rides are appealing to anyone who doesn’t mind getting twirled or tossed around. Some carnivals, like the famous Coney Island, have been in existence for over 100 years and permanently remain in the same location even though they are not open all year round. Other amusement parks come in the form of theme parks, such as those founded by the Walt Disney Company, and are open all year. Yet no matter what kind of amusement park is closest to you, there are a number of classic rides that can be found at mostly any fair!

In May 2013 I wrote a brief article about the history of three popular carnival rides: the carousel, the Ferris wheel and the rollercoaster. This year I am upping the ante and penning additional articles about the histories behind more of the most well-known and beloved rides and amusements.

Bumper Cars
Bumper Cars Tyler Barrick/Getty Images for NASCAR

Bumper Cars

Bumper cars feature several small electric cars in a flat arena. Each car can fit one or two passengers and is controlled by a steering wheel and an accelerator. The object of the ride is for every driver to intentionally try and bump into the other cars in the arena. The inventor of bumper cars is a debated topic. Some people believe they were invented in 1919 by Max and Henry Stoehrer who had a company called “Dodgem” which many early bumper cars were named after. However, other people claim that bumper cars were created by Victor Levand who worked for General Electric. Bumper cars run on electric power that is usually supplied via a conductive floor and ceiling, each with a separate power polarity. Contacts under the vehicle touch the floor while a pole mounted contact touches the ceiling and this forms a complete circuit. Bumper cars reached their height of popularity between 1920s-1950s but they are still enjoyed today.

Haunted Houses
Haunted Houses John Lamparski/Getty Images for Robert and Cortney Novogratz

Haunted Houses

Haunted Houses are indoor attractions (sometimes called “Horror Houses”) that use black lights, scary animatronics, gory images and spooky noises to frighten riders. Some haunted houses have guests walk through narrow maze-like hallways where costumed actors jump out and scare them. However, the most traditional and well-known type of haunted house requires riders to sit in a car and be transported around the inside of an enclosed ride that is decorated to look like a haunted house. This kind of haunted house is frequently seen at traveling carnivals. Haunted Houses date back to at least 1915 but they experienced a popularity boom in the 1950s and 1960s largely due to the vast amount of horror movies and “creature features” produced throughout those eras. Haunted houses have never gone out of style and they are still visited today—even Disney World has a Haunted Mansion!

Mirror Mazes
Mirror Mazes Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Mirror Mazes

Mirror Mazes, also known as the “House of Mirrors” or “Funhouses,” are a traditional carnival attraction that operates like a maze. Most Mirror Mazes are two story enclosed areas where visitors are sent in one way and must walk through the maze to escape from the other side. The wall to wall mirrors can be dizzying and confusing, thus they serve as obstacles to escape. Moreover, some of the mirrors are distorted so reflections look overly tall, short, fat or skinny. Mirror Mazes have a long history. In fact, the first hall of mirror was opened in 1651 and was inspired by the Palace of Versailles in France!

Flying Swings
Flying Swings China Photos/Getty Images

Flying Swings

“Flying Swings” is the term used to describe a carousel-variation ride that features chairs that are suspended into the air and spun in a circular motion via a rotating top. The ride is generally considered to be one of the more gentle kinds of amusement rides and it is suitable for people of varying ages. Flying Swings are one of the most historic kinds of amusement rides and date to at least 1908 when they appeared in Idora Park in Oakland, California.

Fun Slides
Fun Slides Michael Buckner/Getty Images for EGPAF

Fun Slides

The Fun Slide is one of the oldest and simplest rides that is still frequently featured at amusement parks all over the world. The ride is simply a very big slide—usually 65 to 90 feet high—with three to five grooves in its surface to enable several riders to slide down, side by side, at once. To make the experience as exciting as possible, the slide is usually polished with beeswax and riders are given cloth sacks to slide down on. Riders climb up the slide and then race others down. This ride is gentle and enjoyable for even small children. Fun Slides have been featured at carnivals since at least the 1940s.