Laughing Sal evokes a number of different reactions from those who encounter her. Her larger than life presence, mechanical gyrations, and raucous cackle cause delight in some and fear in others. Some deep thinkers have even speculated about the meaning of Laughing Sal. Is she the incarnation of modern wo(man) in an industrial age? A soulless, machine-powered being with an empty laugh and an empty mind?
Love her or hate her, there is no doubting the fact that Sal creates a lasting impression on all who lay eyes on her. She debuted at Euclid Beach amusement park in the 1930s, placed in a glass case at the entrance to the Surprise House, a traditional fun house with moving floors, slanted rooms, and distorting mirrors. That is where she stayed until 1969, when Euclid Beach closed. A Euclid Beach enthusiast purchased Sal in the years following the closing, and she has since appeared at events across Northeast Ohio, becoming a prominent symbol of the park. Now those too young to have visited Euclid Beach themselves can be amused or terrified, delighted or repulsed, by Laughing Sal.
Laughing Sal, however, was not unique to Euclid Beach Park and Cleveland. In fact, in the 1930s the Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC) mass-produced Laughing Sals (as well as 'Laughing Sams') and sold them to amusement parks across the United States. The Old King Cole Papier Mache Company of Canton, Ohio got the contract from PTC to actually build the Sals, tweaking their laughing, papier mache Santa Claus model for the job. Sal's gyrations were created by two rotating cams (or discs) attached to a single motor in her hips. Springs in her arms, head, and chest provided even more movement. Sal's famous laugh emanated from a repeating record player hidden in the base of the figure. The combined effect of Sal's evocative appearance, constant motion, and endless laughter proved to be a hit with amusement park goers, and Laughing Sals became a fixture in fun houses during the 1930s. It appears that no more Sals were built by PTC and Old King Cole after the production of amusement park equipment temporarily ceased during World War II, however.