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The Rise and Fall of the American Kiddie Ride

We used to jokingly call them “quarter horses,” but the one at my local grocery store still only takes pennies. My kids rode it often, but only if they behaved themselves while we shopped. Kiddies rides, the mechanical horses, cartoon characters, and vehicles that jiggled kids for a coin, were once everywhere. And they were profitable for their manufacturers and the stores that displayed them. It all started in 1931.

Commonly known as the kiddie ride, these coin-operated children’s amusements are over 80 years old. According to The Southwest Missourian, in 1931, Missouri inventor James Otto Hahs decided to make his children a special Christmas present, building a mechanical horse covered in mohair and using a real cow’s tail from the slaughterhouse for the horse’s tail. Realizing he had a potential hit on his hands, he set out to build a commercial coin-operated version. Early wood-carved prototypes were too heavy and too expensive, so Hahs developed his own method of casting large aluminum-framed horses. By 1932, the Hahs Gaited Mechanical Horse was winning design and invention awards. He later teamed up with the Exhibit Supply Company to distribute his horse widely, getting 5 percent of all profits. (Hahs would retire not rich, but well-off enough to tinker in his backyard for the rest of his life on more children’s toys and rides.)

The kiddie ride craze declined when other amusements eclipsed them, as children switched to arcade games, video games, and iPads at younger and younger ages. The number of manufacturers that made the rides plummeted. One company is trying to bring back mechanical kiddie rides, but is selling most of its machines to private owners. You can read the entire history of kiddie rides at The Atlantic. -via Metafilter

(Image credit: Joe Mabel)

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My three little kids still beg to get on the neighborhood supermarket's kiddie rides, but alas the decrepit state of the rides means that no sensible parent would let their children get on those death traps!
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