Roller coasters and their trainloads of screaming passengers hog skylines and get most of the glory. Spinning carousels with their majestic prancing steeds and lively band organs project auras of charm and nostalgia. Towering Ferris wheels, bathed in colored lights, sparkle against night skies.
Bumper cars, however, are housed inside buildings away from the tumult of the midway and typically get lost in the shuffle. The ride may not have the panache of other classics, but bumper cars have been essential attractions from the earliest days of amusement parks to the present. Getting behind the wheel of one is a rite of passage. No visit to a park is complete without landing a good ka-thunk or two.
One of the first bumper car rides may have been the Witching Waves at Coney Island’s Luna Park, according to Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project. The attraction debuted at the New York amusement mecca in 1907 in a large outdoor oval along the Bowery. The cars were not powered by electricity, but relied on an undulating floor to propel the low-slung vehicles, which passengers steered using levers.