Carnival games have been a staple of fairs and festivals for over a century. They are a beloved tradition that brings excitement and fun to people of all ages. In this article, we will explore the fascinating history of carnival games, from their origins on the midways to their modern-day incarnations at fairs and festivals around the world.

The Early Years of Carnival Games

Carnival games can trace their roots back to the mid-19th century, when traveling carnivals first began to appear in North America. These carnivals were often chaotic affairs, with a variety of games, rides, and other attractions vying for attention. One of the most popular attractions were the carnival games, which were often simple but highly addictive.

1. Ring Toss

One of the earliest carnival games was ring toss, in which players would try to toss a ring onto a peg to win a prize. This game was simple, but it quickly became a favorite of carnival-goers due to its addictive nature.

2. Shooting Galleries

Another popular early carnival game was shooting galleries, in which players would shoot at targets with pellet guns or BB guns. These games were often rigged, with the targets weighted in such a way that they were difficult to hit. This led to accusations of fraud, but the shooting galleries remained popular nonetheless.

The Golden Age of Carnival Games

The early 20th century saw the rise of the “golden age” of carnival games, as fairs and festivals became more elaborate and sophisticated. Carnival games became more elaborate as well, with a wide variety of games and prizes to choose from.

1. Wheel of Fortune

The Wheel of Fortune was one of the most popular carnival games of the golden age. Players would spin a wheel to win prizes, with the chances of winning varying depending on the color of the section the wheel stopped on.

2. Milk Bottle Toss

Another classic carnival game from this era was the milk bottle toss, in which players would try to knock over a stack of milk bottles with a ball. This game was notoriously difficult, as the bottles were often weighted to make them harder to knock over.

Carnival Games Today

Carnival games have evolved significantly over the years, but they remain a popular attraction at fairs and festivals around the world. Modern carnival games are often more elaborate and sophisticated than their predecessors, with high-tech features and elaborate theming.

1. Whac-A-Mole

One modern classic is Whac-A-Mole, in which players use a mallet to hit mechanical moles as they pop up from their holes. This game is highly addictive and remains a favorite of carnival-goers of all ages.

2. Balloon Darts

Another popular modern game is balloon darts, in which players throw darts at balloons to win prizes. This game is simple but highly addictive, and it remains a staple of modern carnivals.


Carnival games have come a long way since their early days on the midways of North America. From simple ring toss games to high-tech Whac-A-Mole machines, carnival games have remained a beloved tradition that brings joy and excitement to people of all ages. As long as there are fairs and festivals, there will be carnival games to entertain and delight visitors.