America’s First Wild Ride
The electric bumper car was for decades a “repeat ride” among middle school-age amusement park customers, and some of America’s first were built in Methuen in 1919. Known as “Dodgems” (as in don’t get hit by one), the miniature cars were the invention of brothers Max and Harold Stoehrer. According to local legend, the first-ever installation of a bumper car ride (complete with a tin-covered wooden deck and chicken wire ceiling) was at Salisbury Beach in 1920, after the Stoehrers convinced amusement investor Ralph Pratt to test out their hot-off-the-assembly-line product.
Pratt partnered with the Stoehrers, and within a few years of that first installation, Dodgems became wildly popular. The Dodgem Corporation sold every bumper car it made, even though the earliest versions of the boardwalk favorite were almost impossible to steer.
Other companies began producing bumper cars in the early ’20s, including manufacturers in England and the Lusse brothers of Pennsylvania, who created the Auto-Skooter. The two American companies dominated the bumper car industry until the 1970s, when Dodgem, unable to keep up with the competition, went out of business.
Dodgems can still be seen (and ridden!) at several amusement parks across the country, including Canobie Lake Park in Salem, N.H.