Definitions

grabbable

Brass ring

A brass ring is a small grabbable ring that a dispenser presents to a carousel rider during the course of a ride. Usually there are a large number of iron rings and one brass one, or just a few. It takes some dexterity to grab a ring from the dispenser as the carousel rotates. The iron rings can be tossed at a target as an amusement. Typically, getting the brass ring gets the rider some sort of prize when presented to the operator. The prize often is a free repeat ride. The phrase to grab the brass ring is derived from this device.

Background

Brass ring devices were developed during the heyday of the carousel in the U.S.--about 1880 to 1920. At one time, the riders on the outside row of horses were often given a little challenge, perhaps as a way to draw interest or build excitement, more often as an enticement to sit on the outside row of horses which frequently did not move up and down and were therefore less enticing by themselves. Most rings were iron, but one or two per ride were made of brass; if you managed to grab a brass ring, you could redeem the ring for a free ride. References to a literal brass ring go back into the 1890s.

Once the ride started moving, a metal arm was swung out for riders to try to grasp the ring from. As the wooden horses or other creatures circled around the center where the machinery and organ were housed, rings were fed to one end of a wooden arm that was suspended above the riders, who hoped that the timing of their horse's rise would coincide with their approach to the ring, which they would try to grab.

On some rides this held a single brass ring, which was difficult to grab since the outside edge of the carousel is always the fastest moving. Whoever managed to retrieve the brass ring, if anyone, could redeem it for a free ride. Another system had a dispenser of rings, most of which were steel and had no value, but one per ride was the brass one that won the prize. In this system, there was a target to throw the ring into (for example the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Looff Carousel uses a clown target as the image shows, and Knoebels Grand Carousel uses a Lion), discouraging retention as a souvenir.

Cultural references

The brass ring as a term also means striving for the highest prize, or living life to the fullest. It is not clear when the phrase came into wide use but has been found in dictionaries as far back as the late 1800s.

The term has been used as the title of at least one book.

Brass ring carousels today

Although there are a lot of carousels extant, only a handful of carousels still have brass ring dispensers.

The following carousels in the United States have operating brass ring dispensers/targets

Park Location Name Manufacturer Date
Elmira, NY Eldridge Park Eldridge Park Carousel Unknown
San Diego, CA Balboa Park Balboa Park Carousel Herschell-Spillman menagerie 1910
Santa Cruz, CA Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

  Looff 1911
Auburndale, FL International Market World Lakeside Carousel Mangels-Looff/S&G/Carmel 1909
Angola, IN Fun Spot

  Allan Herschell 1929
Logansport, IN Riverside Park

  Dentzel c.1902
Oak Bluffs, MA Martha's Vineyard Flying Horses Dare 1876
Ocean City, NJ Gillian's Wonderland Pier   PTC #75 1926
Brooklyn, NY Coney Island B & B Carousel Mangels-Carmel  
Greenport, NY Mitchell Park Northrop-Grumman Carousel Herschell-Spillman 1920
Easton, PA Bushkill Park

  Allan Herschell 1920
Elysburg, PA Knoebels Amusement Park & Resort Grand Carousel Kremers Carousel Works-Carmel 1913
Pen Argyl, PA Weona Park

  Dentzel c.1900
East Providence, RI Carousel Park Crescent Park Carousel Looff 1895
Watch Hill, RI Watch Hill Park The Flying Horse Carousel Dare c.1884
Spokane, WA Riverfront Park

  Looff 1909
Roseneath, ON (Canada) Roseneath Fairgrounds

  Parker/Herschell Spillman 1906

External links

References

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