THE November meeting of the Langport & District History Society, in Langport Library, featured an illustrated talk by Kay Townsend on the history of dodgems.

She began by describing her family’s history in funfairs, and the books she has written about this life. She then outlined the pre-history of dodgems, in part through illustrations of their patented designs, including the invention of a motorised tricycle by an American, James Adair, in 1890, and the gradual appearance of vehicles resembling what would later be regarded as dodgems.

The breakthrough came in 1920 in America, with the first recognisable dodgem car, by entrepreneurs who formed the Dodgem Corporation to patent and produce them. The name ‘dodgem’ had no special significance, but it became the generic term for such funfair vehicles.

Kay explained how their popularity quickly spread around the world, and how they arrived in the UK, first in Blackpool in 1921, and then a few years later, brought in by Billy Butlin, who became an agent for the Dodgem Corporation.

Variations began to be made in the UK and continental Europe by many different manufacturers, with improvements such as the adoption of fibreglass chassis, aluminium tracks, and rubber bumpers (both on the cars, and on the walls of the track).

Some more esoteric themed cars, such as ones with animal shapes, were devised, but few were successful.

In the postwar era, many of the traditional manufacturers of cars and tracks in the UK (such as Orton & Spooner of Burton on Trent; Whittakers of Lancashire and Supercar of Coventry), Europe and USA went out of business.

The next meeting of the Society will be the annual social event, this year at Midelney Manor, which has now sold out. The first meeting of 2017 will be on Monday, January 9 when Peter Stanier will speak on England’s richest historical landscape: Minions Moor, Cornwall.

It is free to members (annual membership is £12): non-members are welcome, admission £2; refreshments available. Anyone interested in joining the society should contact Sue Standen on 01458 273471, or at

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