There are a handful of staples that have been around every county and state fair. The Ferris Wheel, for example, or the Merry-Go-Round.
But perhaps none hold the interest of kids as much as bumper cars.
The reason is fairly simple: you get to drive. Even if you’re just 10 years old! As long as you are tall enough to meet the safety requirements, you can get behind the wheel.
And then, of course, you can enjoy the fun of smashing (safely) into other cars – something, obviously, that can only be done with bumper cars.
What’s not to like about that?
History of Bumper Cars: Where It All Began
Like many issues surrounding the invention of fair attractions, the history on bumper cars is still debated. Some claim they were invented by Victor Levand, who worked for General Electric, while others say it was Max and Harold Stoehrer of Massachusetts, according the Showmen’s Museum in Miami.
What’s certain is that the Stoehrer brothers were the first to patent their bumper cars and created the Dodgem Company. Their first patent was filed in December 1920.
Originally, the rides really were a parent’s nightmare. Made of tin, the cars sometimes had to be nailed back together between rides. They could be dented with one good kick. Sometimes parts came off during the ride. The Scientific American deemed them “unmanageable,” but the Stoehrer brothers saw how much people enjoyed them. They took out advertisements calling Dodgem cars “the Rolls Royce of amusement devices.” Eventually the cars became much safer.
The main competition in those days was the Lusse Brothers Auto-Skooter, considered by many at the time to be the finest bumper car available, according to the museum. By the 1970s, Dodgem had run into financial trouble and was bought by another company. The same happened with Lusse Brothers and in the 1990s, the Auto-Skooter design was sold to a company out of Dallas.
Some Interesting Facts About Bumper Cars
You don’t expect Isaac Newton’s third of motion to be mentioned in the same sentence as “fair attraction,” and yet here it is.
Newton’s law actually does come into play with bumper cars, as pointed out by Bumpercars.org. The third law of motion, for those who slept through science class, states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
This is why when you ram someone with your bumper car, you also get a jolt and usually bounce in the opposite direction. Of course, the energy and force from that jolt is diffused along the large rubber bumper around each car. Third law or not, it’s pretty fun.
There are three other factors that determine how big a jolt you feel when ramming someone:
- The type of collision (generally speaking, head on is the biggest jolt)
- How fast the cars are going
- The mass of the cars (usually the same) and the drivers (not the same – ramming into a car with a big adult driving could give you a bigger jolt)
The cars are powered by electric current that runs, these days, through the floor. The cars used to be connected by a pole to the ceiling – some still are – but later, metal strips were alternated on the floor with insulating spacer strips. Brushes under the vehicle interact with the strips, creating the voltage that powers the car.
Feel free to astound your friends with these facts about bumper cars next time you are in line. And then enjoy the ride. It’s still one of the best attractions, almost 100 years after it first appeared.