In modern English, “grabbing the brass ring” or getting a “shot at the brass ring” means to go for the gold, or to strive for the best possible reward. The phrase has been found in dictionaries as early as the late 19th century.
Coney Island, 1958, photo by Harold Feinstein
The phrase originated with carousels in the late 1800’s; according to Wikipedia:
“A brass ring is a small grabbable ring that a dispenser presents to a carousel rider during the course of a ride. Usually there are a large number of iron rings and one brass one, or just a few. It takes some dexterity to grab a ring from the dispenser as the carousel rotates. The iron rings can be tossed at a target as an amusement. Typically, getting the brass ring gets the rider some sort of prize when presented to the operator. The prize often is a free repeat ride.”
I grew up in New York in the 50s, and the first carousel in Central Park was opened in 1871. The current one, the Friedsam Memorial Carousel, was installed in 1950, but I don’t ever recall a brass-ring device; if they ever had one, it must have been removed earlier before its relocation from Coney Island.
It’s a great analogy for life. To get that brass ring, you have to stretch, to reach out, to take a risk. Those who sit on the inside, or who watch that little dispenser go by ever turn without reaching for it, will never know what it means to succeed, or even to fail while trying.
Finding our dreams in life is often difficult because we’re too busy living our fears, but one thing is certain: reaching for the stars will always get us farther than sitting in the mud.
Go ahead. Reach for the brass ring.
The Old Wolf has spoken.