History of Brass Rings

Written By Rachel Novak

When one hears the term “brass ring,” most of us undoubtedly think of “grabbing the brass ring” as having won a great career or life opportunity.

This meaning of the phrase has its history in merry-go-rounds. Carousels once had a small arm that extended toward riders which dispensed iron and brass rings. If someone was able to grab a brass ring – no easy feat – he or she won a prize.

Hence, “going for the brass ring” means going for an outstanding, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that suddenly comes up. “Grabbing the brass ring” means getting it.

Brass rings frequently are used in an industrial, manufacturing or warehouse setting. It’s unclear how the rings came to be featured on carousel rides.

But appear they did, sometime between the 1880s and 1920s, the peak of the merry-go-round as an attraction.

Some feel the appearance of the ring dispenser was a way to attract attention to the ride. Some carousel historians also believe the game of grabbing a ring came about as a way to entice riders to use the outside ring of horses/animals on the carousel, which typically don’t move up and down as do their interior counterparts.

What’s more, the ring dispenser dispensed rings made of iron, with just one or two brass rings thrown in the mix. This made the game even more difficult: not only is it hard to grab any ring from the dispenser, in order to win the prize, one had to be lucky enough that the ring grabbed was one of the few brass meted out by the dispenser.

No one is clear as to how the phrases “going for the brass ring” or “grabbing the brass ring” came in to wide use, but they have been found in dictionaries from the late 1800s.

Carousels are still popular in the U.S. today, but those that dispense rings are relatively rare. Wikipedia.com estimates that there are only about 19 ring-dispensing carousels still working today, with all of them constructed between the 1890s and 1920s.

Brass harness rings are useful for a range of applications. From 1-inch diameter to 2-inch diameter harness rings to ¾-inch to 1-inch harness rings with snaps, we have them! All of the rings are solid brass, with the snap rings offering stainless steel springs. They come 10 pieces to  a box, while some come in bulk packaging of 100 rings (10 boxes) or 50 rings (five boxes).