A traveling carnival (US English), usually simply called a carnival, or travelling funfair (UK English), is an amusement show that may be made up of
In 1893, the Chicago's World's Columbian Exposition (also called the Chicago World's Fair) was the catalyst for the development of the modern traveling carnival. The Chicago World's Fair had an area that included rides, games of chance, freak shows, and burlesque. After the Chicago World's Fair, traveling carnival companies began touring the United States. Due to the type of acts featured along with sometimes using dishonest business practices, the traveling carnivals were often looked down upon.
Modern traveling carnivals usually make contracts with local governments in order to play both
Originally, a fair would also have had a significant number of
Through most of the 19th century, rural North America enjoyed the entertainment of traveling shows. These shows could include a
Otto Schmitt, a showman at the world's fair, formed Chicago Midway Plaisance Amusement Company. The company featured thirteen acts, including some from the World's Fair, and began a tour of the northeast US. His company closed due to poor business practices before completing its first tour. Some members of his company formed successful traveling carnivals after Otto Schmitt's company closed. The appeal of this new type of entertainment was embraced. In 1902, there were seventeen traveling carnivals in the US. The number grew to 46 in 1905; by 1937 there was an estimated 300 carnivals touring the country.
Worldwide there are many different traveling carnival companies. Most carnivals are not made up of just one operator of rides, food or games. Many of these venues are operated by independent owners who contract (or "book") with the carnival. These independent owners are contract to pay the carnival operator a
Many carnival operators are so big that they have carnival "units" or divisions. Each of these units may consist of six or more major rides. By having these units, a carnival operator can have a carnival operating in many different areas during the same week.
Rides and stands are generally transported by truck. The rides generally have wheels mounted on the base and the rest of the ride is then dismantled and folded up to allow for over the road transport. Food stands are usually tow-behind trailers, although there are still some booths that require complete take down and packing. Some large carnival operators use the railroad to transport their equipment from one location to another. A traveling carnival operator may schedule their carnival for certain seasons. They will have their carnivals in warm climate southern areas and then move into northern regions during the warmer months.
Admission is often charged for county or state fairs, but is usually free at most carnivals. Tickets or all-day passes are usually sold for rides. When a carnival is "playing" a fair, exhibits or displays may charge their own entry fee, as well as some entertainment acts (such as a music concert, tractor pulling, or a demolition derby).
There are food stands at carnivals which serve a variety of food and beverages. They offer snack items like cotton candy, ice cream, fried dough, funnel cake, candy, or caramel apples and french fries. Meal items may include pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken. Beverages may include soda, coffee, tea, and lemonade. Local and regional specialties, along with ethnic foods, are often available such as Empanadas and Tacos. At autumn and winter carnivals, drinks like hot cider and hot chocolate may be available.
Junk food items like
At many traveling carnivals, there are games of chance and skill. Games like the "Crossbow Shoot" game or the "Balloon and Darts" game will test an individuals target shooting ability. Other games, such as the "Water gun" game, will pit a group of individuals against each other to win the game. Chance is involved in games like the "Duck Pond" game or the "Pingpong Ball" and "Fishbowl" games. Most games offer a small prize to the winner. Prizes may be stuffed animals, toys, posters, etc. Continued play is encouraged as multiple small prizes may traded in for a larger prize. Some more difficult games, including the "Baseball and Basket" or "Stand the Bottle" game, may offer a large prize to any winner.
While the majority of game operators run honest games, some people are wary of carnival games. This may be because carnival games in the past gained a reputation for being dishonest. The term "mark" (slang term: "sucker") originated with the carnival.
When dishonest carnival game operators found someone who they could entice to keep playing their "rigged" (slang term: "gaffed") game, they would then "mark" the player by patting their back with a hand that had chalk on it. Other game operators would then look for these chalk marks and entice the individual to also play their rigged game. This is not common practice anymore, although there still are a few confidence men in the carnival business.
Learning about how carnival games work can help an individual from being
Side stalls and games
Most stalls feature games of skill or strength. The most traditional example being the coconut shy in which players throw balls at coconuts balanced on posts, winning the coconut if they manage to dislodge it.
Other side stalls range from the trivially easy, such as hooking rubber ducks from a water trough in which nearly every player is expected to win a prize, to the deceptively challenging, which includes games which utilize optical illusions or physical relationships that are difficult to judge. Highly profitable (and therefore timeless) games include:
- ring toss, in which the customer must throw a ring around a target, often a peg or bottle. However, it is either highly difficult to throw the ring in the proper angle to get it to land around the target without bouncing out of place, or the ring is physically too small to properly fit around the target.
- ball-in-the-basket games in which the basket is presented at an angle almost certain to bounce the ball out. (The basket bottom may also be springy.)
- basketball-shooting games in which the basket is ovoid in shape and the basketball cannot fit inside the rim under any circumstances, but takes advantage of the oval shape an individual expects to see when directly confronted by a circle presented at an angle nearly parallel with the ground. (The sides of such a game are walled with netting which presumably keeps the ball in play, but the netting is typically covered with the prizes the customer hopes to win, which block the view of the basket from the side and thus exposing the hoax.) Sometimes the basketballs are also inflated to their full capacity, thus allowing the ball to bounce out of the hoop more easily.
- paint ball guns with sometimes misaligned sights (or handled by someone who cannot shoot straight), with targets ranging from bulls eyes to playing cards.
- Hit-The-Bell, high striker device to test prowess, originally fabricated from various hardware.
- milk bottle games where the customer must knock over a stack of metal milk bottles with a thrown ball. These games are often rigged by weighing down the bottles to be much more difficult to dislodge than they look, using throwing balls that are too light and soft to hit with much force, or both.
- dart games where the player must throw darts at a wall of balloons to pop them. The balloons are often not inflated fully and the darts may be blunted, making it more difficult to pop the balloons with them.
- shooting gallery games where the player must use a pellet gun to shoot out a symbol, such as a star, out of a piece of paper with a limit of time or pellets. Because the paper grows increasingly pliable as it is repeatedly punctured, the pellets will more likely bend the paper out of the way rather than penetrate it.
Much of the true "con artistry" has been driven out of funfairs in the twentieth century, and combined with an increasing emphasis on the role of families and small children in such entertainment, contemporary showmen often find greater profit in pricing their games far above the value of the prizes being offered, with complex formula for upgrading to the large prizes that advertise the game and instill desire among customers. The rises in pricing of many side stalls must often reflect the overheads of running fairground equipment – the cost of swag, diesel, staff, and rents.
Typical prizes change to reflect popular tastes. A traditional fairground prize used to be a
Crossbow target shooting game
Weight guessing booth
Pingpong ball and fishbowl game
Balloon and dart game
Shooting game during a firemen's convention in Sturgeon Bay Wisconsin, 1940
Many traveling carnivals bring with them an assortment of rides. Some rides are for young children and may include a
The rides are generally painted in bright vibrant colors such as red, yellow and orange. Multicolored lighting is also used to enhance the rides' appearance at night. Each ride also plays its own music: a carousel may have
These rides are designed to be quickly set up and taken down, thus helping the carnival operator in moving them. Some state governments have agencies that inspect carnival rides to ensure the safety of the riders. Regulation varies by jurisdiction.
There is constant innovation, with new variations on ways to spin and throw passengers around, in an effort to attract customers. With the requirement that rides be packed into one or more trailers for travel, there is a limit to the size of the rides, and funfairs struggle to compete with much larger attractions, such as
Some fairs may feature compact
Funfairs are seen as family entertainment, and most include a significant number of children's rides. Many of these are smaller, platform based rides like, cup & saucer, toy sets, train rides, as well as smaller slower versions of the adult rides,
- Bumper cars
- Wave Swinger
In the past, many traveling carnivals also had a sideshow that accompanied them. Admission to see these curiosities or exhibits required an extra fee. Some sideshows featured a single exhibit, but some had multiple acts or exhibits under one tent (slang term: Ten-in-One).
Human acts may include people with multiple arms or legs,
Another type of act at the sideshow was the thrill act. Examples of these acts included
- All Hallows Guild Carousel, an antique traveling carousel
- Musée des Arts Forains (The Funfair Museum), in Paris, France
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- University of South Florida Libraries: Showmen's Museum Photograph Collection Photographs of the life and times of the American carnival from the late 1800s to the modern day.
- University of South Florida Libraries: Showman's Oral History Interviews with carnival showmen documenting their careers and the changing nature of the industry.
- CBC Archives A 1971 look at North American carnival operator Patty Conklin of Conklin Showsincluding clips showing the setup and operation of a traveling carnival