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W.F. Mangels and his "Amusing" Career

Aug 31, 2009 11:43 AM | 11 comments

Children Grabbing the Carousel Ring in Coney Island

Summer is quickly coming to an end, and soon our favorite boardwalks and amusement parks will be closed for the season.  As we roll, spin, slide and gallop our way into fall, few of us will notice that many of our favorite rides were designed by a Brooklynite. 

In 1882, a 16 year-old German by the name of William F. Mangels emigrated to New York City.  The young amusement enthusiast found himself at the right place at the right time.  Coney Island was the epicenter for the amusement industry.  The latest and newest rides were being manufactured blocks from the beach and tested on the massive crowds that arrived by train and trolley each weekend.  Within four years of arriving in his new home, Mangels opened his own factory, hoping to make a name for himself in the industry of fun and recreation.

W.F. Mangels Company of Coney Island    Like most amusement manufacturers in the late 20th century, the W.F. Mangels Company of Coney Island specialized in carousels.  Mangels collaborated with Coney Island's best wood carvers and mechanics, many of whom were immigrants themselves.  In 1907, he patented a version of the overhead gears that controlled the up-and-down "galloping" motion of the horses.  Mangels' design became the standard, and Mangels himself became a leader in the field.  

Coney Car CatalogOnce every park had a carousel, it was time to explore other forms of amusement.  Mangels designed over 39 different "devices" in his career, including the Tickler in 1906 and (my personal favorite) the Whip in 1914.  The Mangels Company also developed some of the first "kiddie" rides.  Our collection has an undated brochure for one of Mangels' creations:  the Coney-Car.  The catalog illustrates the ingenuity and thought that went Coney Car Diagraminto Mangels' work.  Schematics show how the car utilized the third rail system, often seen in subways and trolleys.  Photographs depict men, women and children enjoying the "real driving" experience that kept customers coming back for more and more.

The Coney Car

W.F. MangelsMangels had a wide reputation as both an expert and risk-taker in his field.  His rides could be found as far away as New Zealand.  In 1912, the Palisades Amusement Park asked Mangels to design one of the first wave machines.  Years later in the Eagle, Mangels said he was grateful the Palisades had not requested a ride to the moon because he probably would have attempted that too.  During the Depression, park owners across the country called Mangels for ideas.  He seemed to enjoy being of use and often answered questions by mass producing a new contraption or cheaper ride. 

In 1929, Mangels earned the right to open the American Museum of Public Recreation only 100 yards from his own factory (other cities had also competed for the honor).  The museum was an eclectic mix of archival papers, ride models and ride parts - including a menagerie of carousel animals.  In an editorial to the Times he argued that the museum celebrated "human reaction to play as expressed through play facilities man has created and developed."  But Mangels struggled to find financial and popular support, and the museum was a short-lived venture.The Carousel Menagerie

Even in his old age, Mangels checked in on his factory three or four times a year.  His was not a career, but a true labor of love.  In 1952, he published a history of the amusement industry, defending his belief that amusement parks existed because "man has ever been fun-loving." The Outdoor Amusement Industry: From Earliest Times to Present was one of the first works to outline the history of an industry that had always been perceived as truly modern.  Mangels spent years writing his opus, researching the evolution of amusement at the British Museum and other institutions.  His work gave historic background to many modern amusements, tracing items like the carousel back to "ancient royal tournaments of medieval times."

W.F. Mangels with a Steam-powered Bike at his Museum

In 1958, 92 year-old William F. Mangels died in his home on Ocean Parkway, only blocks from the boardwalk.  He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, but his legacy spans the globe.  Today, a few of his original rides are still operational, but almost all modern-day rides reflect the ingenuity and passion of this "amusing" Brooklynite. 

 

Comments

9/28/2009 5:24:53 PM #

I enjoyed your article on William F. Mangel.  It is interested that the American Museum of Public Recreation's (Mangel's collection) an "eclectic mix of archival papers was sold in the 1950s by William Mangels to Fred Fried, who later wrote a book on carousels.  William Mangels was along with his very good friend Ruyard Uzzell were historians from 1920 on for the National Association of Amusement Parks  (later beaches and Pools were added to the name.)  William Mangels was very careful with his money (He could be said to be cheap).  He scolded some people he did business with when they asked for a 5 percent discount but they paid the bill over the full season and not in advance.  I spoke with one of his nephews or grandnephews from Denver.  After World War II he had and idea to set up an amusment park near Denver.  He asked his uncle William for credit to buy some rides and his uncle said no.  Later this Mangels became a fire chief in Denver.  Managels did survive the great Depression because he did not sell on credit but for cash.  

Charles J. Jacques, Jr.

9/28/2009 5:30:27 PM #

I have a lot of material on Mangels, Uzzell, Frank W. Darling and many of the amusement park greats.  I was able to purcdhase the Uzzell collection about ten years ago.  Uzzell wrote for Billvoard magazine for many years about rides.  Mangels book was obviously written many years before it was published.  The National Association of Amusment Parks, Pools and Beaches arranged to have it published.  Each of the larger members paid for and took some copies of the book.  I was given a copy of the book in 1970s by Kennywood Park that had been giving them away for yers.  

Charles J. Jacques, Jr.

12/6/2010 9:10:38 AM #

My Kids just rode on a Mangel design mini ferris wheel at the Northpole in NY.  Park opened in the late 40's and looks like it still has most of the original carnival rides.

M Santangelo

8/12/2011 10:00:12 PM #

My Kids just road numerous rides by Mangel, in the Magical Forest in Lake George NY.

Noticed the W F Mangel on the ride across from the Santa House. This ride is still operating. Proof in the true genius of this amazing man.

Ich wünschte, die Hersteller von heute gelernt dieses erstaunlichen Mannes. Gute Deutscher Maschinen dauert.

M Grob

1/30/2012 9:06:45 PM #

I AM A REGULAR PERSON WHO LIVES IN THE COUNTRY  IN MY YARD I HAVE A MANGLES CAGED WHEEL FERRIS WHEEL  AM INTERESTED IN FINDING HISTORY OF IT AND PICTURES OF IT   THANKS

dennis feller

7/8/2012 5:21:03 PM #

I am doing a genealogy search and believe that he is my great-great grandfather.  It's really amazing to find out things like this about your ancestors.

David Mangels

7/27/2012 7:41:05 PM #

HI I USED TO VISIT MANGELS MUSEUM WITH HIS  GRANDSON FRED  MANGELS THEY LIVED ON OCEAN PARKWAY > I KNEW FREDS FAMILY WELL I LIVED AT WEST 5th ST. AND ATTENDED LINCOLN HIGH  FRED  AND I WERE GOOD BUDDIES WE GREW UP  IN  ONE OF THE BEST PLACES IN THE WORLD  CONEY ISLAND. THE MUSEUM WAS ON WEST 8TH ST. I REMEMBER FRED SHOWING ME TOM THUMBS HORSE CARRIAGE IN THE MUSEUM. FRED AND I  MADE 50 CENTS AN HOUR AT CONEY ISLAND GIVING PONY RIDES TO CHILDREN>  LATER ON I DROVE A TRUCK FOR GOLDBERG BROS> HANDBAGS WHICH WAS RIGHT NEXT TO THE MUSEUM> I WAS ACCEPTED AT JULLIARD SCHOOL  OF MUSIC BUT WENT INTO THE ARMY DURING THE KOREAN CONFLICT.I HAVE TRIED GETTING IN TOUCH WITH  FRED MANGELS BUT SO FAR NO LUCK SINCERELY  PAUL J.DELFINO  RHINEBECK  n>Y>

paul delfino

1/20/2013 5:48:19 AM #

I am honored to be restoring two of Mangels rides, the pony cart and the firetruck ride. They are at Deno's Wonder wheel park and survive the Hurricane Sandy storm. Thank goodness Steve,  Dennis and Stacey ,the owners, believe in keeping the past alive and the collectables in amazing shape. I am keeping and bringing the rides back to original colors as much as possible so W.F. Mangels will be restored and enjoyed for many more years to come at Coney Island Park.  respectfully, Barbara Listenik

Barbara listenik

1/26/2013 11:12:20 PM #

We just purchased a wonderful painting of a children's ride -- boats on a circular track, going round and round a form of a lighthouse, on which is written "Speed Boats".  To the left is a man in plaid shirt, with a yellow vest, apparently manning the station that started the ride.  The painting is signed "W.F. Mangels, Jr." and is dated 1956.  So interesting to find out there was a real W.F. Mangels and that he was the pre-eminent manufacturer of carousels and kiddie rides.   It appears our painting was done by the son, and shows not only a real ride created by his father, but perhaps a portrait of his father!   If Jr. (or a close relative) is still alive, perhaps he could contact us.  Much fun.

Jill and Howard Sharfstein

4/8/2013 8:13:33 PM #

I lived in the Luna Park Hosing complex from its opening in 1962 till I was married in 1969. I could see the old W.F. Mangels building from my bedroom window.

Henry Broder

5/1/2013 5:50:46 PM #

I would like to contact Charles Jacques, Jr. about William F. Mangels.  I am interested in the history of Coney Island and the arcade industry.  Anyone having contact information for him in Jefferson OH, please contact me at 720.381.0710 or at richardstucker@comcast.net.  Thanks.  

Richard Tucker

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