Bumper cars for adults and kids alike are one of the most iconic, popular, and long-lasting amusement park rides out there. First introduced in the early 1920s by a company called Dodgem, bumper car rides have been a hilarious and unpredictable way to unleash pent up energy for almost a century.

While you may be familiar with the bumper cars for adults and kids at bumper car places like amusement parks and indoor fun venues like PINSTACK, you might not know the sometimes alarming, sometimes amusing, and always surprising facts behind the earliest versions of these rides. Here are 5 facts about early bumper cars that will leave you thankful for the modern day rides you can enjoy today.

The first bumper cars were not supposed to collide with each other.

The whole point of bumper cars for adults and kids nowadays is to ram into other participants as often and as hard as possible. It is the unpredictable movements of the cars both before and after collisions that provide the hilarity and fun during the ride.

In the early 1920s, however, the whole point of bumper cars was to avoid collisions (Thus the name, “Dodgem” that was given to the first bumper cars and the company that made them). In one Russian version of bumper cars for adults, collisions were penalized by an immediate cessation of the ride.

The thrill came instead, from trying one’s hardest to avoid colliding with other bumper cars, even as your car careened around in crazy and unpredictable patterns (Thanks to intentionally unreliable steering). While collisions often did occur, these were the products of chance and steering failures, and were not the main point of the ride.

The reason the first bumper cars were not supposed to bump? Because they would fall apart.

There was a good reason behind Dodgem’s marketing of bumper cars for adults and children as a game of collision avoidance: The cars would usually fall apart upon impact. For example, cars that rammed into the sides of the ride would often have difficulty starting again. Often, the cars needed to be nailed back together at the end of every day after the ride had closed.

The cars were also known to dent from a single kick. Hammering dents out of the body of each car was also a nightly routine for those who ran the rides. At other times, pieces (and sometimes occupants) would go flying after a collision. And, after the very first season, all of the Dodgem cars were so far past repair that they were summarily burned. The cars’ flimsiness was due primarily to their construction out of tin, a material that provided very little protection or durability.

The first bumper cars for adults and children were not actually driveable.

Part of the appeal of bumper cars, for adults and kids, is the ability to drive them around the arena. And part of the fun is directing them at the other participants in order to create the collisions that send the car spinning dizzyingly across the room.

However, the first bumper cars were, in fact, not very driveable at all. While they came with steering wheels, one review of the cars described the steering as “relative,” meaning that the car only went in vaguely the direction it was steered.

This lack of maneuverability was due in part to the design of the founders, who wanted the unpredictability of the ride to be part of its fun. In part, it was also due to the construction of the cars, which left the motor underneath the car and made steering less precise.

Imprecise steering did not deter early riders of bumper cars, however. As the creators of the ride anticipated, people loved the wild rides and did not mind being thrown about the arena with little sense of where they would end up. It was all part of the thrill and fun that have always been an integral part of bumper cars, whether for adults or for kids.

The popularity of bumper cars for adults and kids exceeded their initial reviews.

Initial reviews of the bumper cars (Dodgems) were less than stellar. The magazine Scientific American, for example, noted not only the lack of effective steering but also described the cars as generally “unmanageable.” Despite these sour notes, it was the crowds lining up to use the new bumper cars for adults and kids that really spoke to the thrilling, unforgettable fun that the new amusement park ride was capable of delivering, not only in spite of its unpredictability but because of it.

For example, despite doubling the price of each ride (from 15 to 30 cents) during the ride’s debut summer at Salisbury Beach, MA, in 1920, the ride operators reported crowds of 40 or 50 people waiting to take their turn. Crowds were steady throughout that whole summer, and Dodgem enjoyed many years of business success before a better designed bumper car took over control of the industry. 

Improvements have been made on the design of bumper cars for adults and kids, but the fun they deliver has remained consistent over the years.

Of course, over the last century, bumper cars have seen vast improvements in design, steering, and safety. The previously open side of the car was closed to protect feet. Seatbelts were added to prevent people from being thrown out of the car. Bumpers were added around the cars to soften impact, and the cars were made stronger to resist damage during collisions.

In addition, the design was improved to provide stability and maneuverability. And the source of electricity to power the cars was moved solely to the floor to eliminate the ceiling to floor metal rod that used to restrict the movement of the bumper cars.

The way the ride was enjoyed also changed over time. Instead of avoiding collisions, bumper cars for adults and kids alike now encouraged them. Bad driving is embraced as part of the fun. And bumper car places such as PINSTACK now offer rides that are fun, exciting, and safe, all at once.

However, what has not changed about bumper cars over the years has been the amount of fun they are capable of delivering. Whether the bumper cars are for adults or tailored to children, whether they have been flimsy tin vehicles or safe and sturdy modern-day bumper cars, they have always captured people’s imagination and delighted them with wild rides around the arena.

If you want to experience that kind of age old fun, consider trying out a bumper car place such as PINSTACK. You will enjoy the safest and most modern bumper cars (and other epic games), and one of the oldest and most proven sources of fun for people of all ages.