Brass ring

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Brass Ring dispenser and target on Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk's Looff Carousel in Santa Cruz, California The dispenser is visible as an arm crossing to the upper left, where a rider is grabbing the 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.



Brass ring dispenser on arm end, from the carousel in Glen Echo Park (Maryland)[1]

Brass ring devices were developed during the heyday of the carousel in the U.S.—about 1880 to 1921. 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 a rider managed to grab a brass ring, it could be redeemed for a free ride. References to a literal brass ring go back into the 1890s.[2]

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),[3] 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 19th century.[4][5]

The term has been used as the title of at least two books.[6][7]

Brass Ring is the title of a second-season episode (S02/E16) of The Fugitive.

Brass ring carousels today

Although there are a lot of carousels extant, only a handful of carousels still have brass rings. The following pre 1960 vintage carousels in North America have operating brass ring dispensers/targets:[8]

Elmira, NYEldridge ParkEldridge Park CarouselLooff
San Diego, CABalboa ParkBalboa Park CarouselHerschell-Spillman menagerie1910
Santa Cruz, CASanta Cruz Beach BoardwalkLooff CarouselLooff1911
Garden City, NYMuseum RowNunley's CarouselStein and Goldstein Artistic Carousell Co.1912
Auburndale, FLInternational Market WorldLakeside CarouselMangels-Looff/S&G/Carmel1909
Angola, INFun Spot Allan Herschell1929
Logansport, INRiverside Park Dentzelc.1902
Oak Bluffs, MAMartha's VineyardFlying HorsesDare1876
Ocean City, NJGillian's Wonderland Pier PTC #751926
Brooklyn, NYConey IslandB & B CarouselMangels-Carmel 
Greenport, NYMitchell ParkNorthrop-Grumman CarouselHerschell-Spillman1920
Easton, PABushkill Park Allan Herschell1920
Elysburg, PAKnoebels Amusement Park & ResortGrand CarouselKremers Carousel Works-Carmel1913
Pen Argyl, PAWeona Park[9] Dentzelc.1900
East Providence, RICarousel ParkCrescent Park Looff CarouselLooff1895
Watch Hill, RIWatch Hill ParkThe Flying Horse CarouselDarec.1884
Spokane, WARiverfront ParkRiverfront Park CarouselLooff1909
Roseneath, ON (Canada)Roseneath Fairgrounds Parker/Herschell Spillman1906

External links


  1. ^ Information from "Carousel Info Page". National Park Service. Retrieved 10 October 2006. 
  2. ^ From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of 24 September 1899 about the famous Coney Island amusement park:
    "This big place has been the rendezvous for thousands of children who have spent their nickels and have enjoyed a ride on the ponies, besides trying their best to capture the brass ring, which the boy drops in the big iron arm that is swung out at the side of the merry-go-round."
    as quoted in: Michael Quinion. "Meaning of the term Brass Ring". World Wide Words. Retrieved 26 September 2006. 
  3. ^ Adam Sandy. "The Grand Carousel Knoebels Grove- Elysburg, Pennsylvania". Archived from the original on 30 June 2008. Retrieved 10 October 2006. . Images from that site: grabbing the ring and the target
  4. ^ From "The Mavens' Word of the Day - Brass ring". WORDS@RANDOM, Random House, Inc.. Retrieved 10 October 2006. :
    "Merriam-Webster's 10th Collegiate defines the metaphor and dates it to 1950. Christine Ammer's The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms says it's from the late 1800s."
  5. ^ World Wide Words: Brass ring
  6. ^ For example: "Grab the Brass Ring". Retrieved 10 October 2006. 
  7. ^ For example: "The Brass Ring". Retrieved 14 April 2008. 
  8. ^ "Classic Carousels with Operating Ring Machines". National Carousel Association. Retrieved 26 September 2006. 
  9. ^ National Carousel Association