Bumper Cars

Mondays at the Museum


So here is a very real scenario that some of you may have to address one day.  You've just spent your morning at the American Treasure Tour.  You had a lot of fun - it was interesting, your guide on the tram ride was informative, funny, and amazingly cute - but you still have some time to explore the region and you don't know what to do next.  Of course you're hungry, so you try out the Bistro at Arnold's, on the opposite side of the building from the Treasure Tour.  

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You COULD spend your afternoon at Arnold's Family Fun Center, which is an excellent option if you like to have, as the name implies, fun.  They have electric indoor go-karts, bowling, arcade games, a carousel, Skee-Ball, duckpin bowling, bumpe--you know what?  Describing it here, the very real question that comes up is why you would consider going someplace else besides Arnold's?  You're already here, since you had lunch at the Bistro.  Just get one of those plastic card thingy-mabobs from the check-in desk at Arnold's and go bonkers.  They have all kinds of games for people of all ages. They're open until 9:00 p.m., so you better call your family and tell them to meet you at Arnold's because you won't be home for dinner, either.

Dodgem Bumper Cars

QUESTION:  What is generally considered the oldest, continuously used amusement park in the United States?
A). Coney Island, NY
B). Cedar Point, OH
C). Lake Constance, CT
D). Idlewild, PA

Two of the newest additions to the wild and wonderful collection here at the American Treasure Tour are Dodgem Bumper Cars!  Dodgem was the first manufacturer of bumper cars ever. They filed for a patent in 1920, and the next year, the fun began!  Their cars did not have batteries. Instead, they received their power with wooden poles that had metal 'spoons' on top that brushed against the ceiling of the attraction. Electrical power in metal plates sent a current to the motor and the bumper car moved. The cleaner the connection in the spoon, the faster the car. Waiting in line for their chance to bump, many kids looked out for the best cars so that they could claim them for their turn and speed through the arena, bumping their friends, dodging others, and just having fun.

Max and Harold Stoehrer of Methuen, Massachusetts designed the Dodgem. The first cars were not necessarily safe, honestly. They had upright seats and the steering wheel was at the top of a pole coming directly from the floor. The tin cars were very vulnerable to denting, and after a full day's usage had to be banged back into place for the next day. Of course, Dodgem technology improved over the years, but not fast enough for some. It was a few years after their introduction that two cousins, Joseph and Ray Lusse, introduced the Lusse Auto Skooter, direct competition with the Dodgem and, as far as the Stoehrers were concerned, in direct violation of their patent. Regardless, both companies survived the crisis and produced these delightful rides for years to come. In 1961, Dodgem was sold to none other than the Allan Herschell Company. If you don't know who they were, then keep checking back in with the blog. They are of great importance to the world of amusement parks and automatic music. Alas, the change did not have a lasting impression. Dodgem disappeared completely in the 1970's.  Well, not entirely completely.  Come on by and visit ours here at the Treasure Tour! 

ANSWER:  C). Lake Constance, CT.  Opened in 1846 as a picnic site, the attractions began appearing shortly thereafter and it has been going strong ever since.  The other three are all on the top ten oldest attractions list.

Bumper Cars - Controversy

QUESTION:  Who received the first patent ever granted by the United States government?  HINT: He received it on July 31, 1790 for a process to make potash (a form of fertilizer). 
A). Samuel Hopkins
B). Oliver Evans
C). Frances Hopkinson
D). Benjamin Franklin

Controversy and drama surround many of the most important inventions created by man. The fight between Thomas Edison and his direct current electricity and George Westinghouse and his alternating current is a famous one, as is the debate over to whether Enrico Marconi invented wireless communication or was it in fact Nikolai Tesla who did it?  One that few people have ever considered on par with these two is the bumper car.  Was it first invented by a man from General Electric named Victor Levand, or did it first come to be in Massachusetts, the brainchild of Max and his son Harold Stoehrer? We may never know the answer to this final question with complete certainty, but we do know that the Stoehrers submitted the first patent application for the bumper car.  It was patent #1,373,108 (remember that, it will be on the quiz later). It was filed on December 7, 1920, and issued the following March 29th.  Their patent application described an electrically-charged thrill ride for amusement parks. It had an electrically-charged ceiling, as well as conductive floors, each with a separate power polarity. This formed a complete circuit and compelled the bumper cars to move, thanks to a pole that extended up from the car and contacted the ceiling.

The cars themselves were generally pretty small, and originally made out of tin. This made them fairly vulnerable to denting upon impact with other cars. It was not uncommon that operators would have to nail the cars back together after being driven. The cars were 'rear-steered,' which made it difficult to control where they went, often softening the blow upon impact, but not enough to reduce the fun factor. The rides were considered unmanageable and jarring by critics, but they did not dissuade people from climbing into them. People loved them, especially kids who might not have had the opportunity to drive anywhere else, and they quickly became one of the more popular attractions at amusement parks and carnivals.  

ANSWER:  A). Samuel Hopkins.  But really, with a hint like the one we gave you, how could anyone have thought otherwise, since Samuel Hopkins was easily the most famous potash producer in the country between July 30 and August 1, 1790!

Bumper Cars

QUESTION:  Which one of the following men is considered the creator of the first bumper car?
A). Victor Levand
B). Max Stoehrer
C). Harold Stoehrer
D). Ray Lusse

What kid doesn't love a bumper car?  Okay, we can amend that question a little bit:  what kid at heart doesn't love a bumper car?  They are, of course, part of an American tradition found in amusement parks. You climb into a tiny car and sit very close to the ground.  If you're lucky, your car will have a ring of rubber around it to cushion the blow when you and everyone else in an enclosed area do everything you can to drive into one another at maximum speed (maximum speed generally reaching no higher than four or five miles per hour), trying to give friends and strangers a bit of a jolt before they give the same to you. There's no doubt these are not for everyone, but the people who enjoy them enjoy them a lot!

The American Treasure Tour has had the pleasure to display two bumper cars in our Toy Box for years. A recent acquisition has doubled our inventory of historic bumper cars, effectively inspiring the blog staff to dedicate a few days to telling the story of these strange but fascinating pieces of entertainment. Of course, we do need to let you know that the bumper cars on display here at the Treasure Tour are for looking and appreciating only. If we whet your appetite and make you hunger for immersion into bumper car driving, we encourage you to go to the other side of our building, to Arnold's Family Fun Center.  They have actual cars there you can ride and, of course, use to drive into your friends in a safe and happy environment! So climb on in and let's get ready for the ride.

ANSWER:  A), B), or C). This was kind of a trick question, since Levand and the Stoehrers are all given that honor by different people.  Ray Lusse is considered the man who perfected the technology, and in fact was sued by the Stoehrers for his designs.