Series: Town Bands
The metaphorical expression "get on the bandwagon" has become such a common idiom for exhorting people to unite that it is easy to forget that the term bandwagon once held a more literal meaning for most Americans. In the 19th- and early 20th-centuries, the bandwagon was, as its name denotes, a vehicle for conveying a band in parades and at other festive occasions. To see a band marching and playing was exciting. But to see and hear a band playing as it floated along above the crowd in a bandwagon was even more impressive.
Today, the iconic image of the bandwagon emanates from the circus parades which were used to announce that the circus had arrived in town. Circus wagons were quite large and ornately decorated with bright colors and elaborate carvings. Usually pulled by a team of 6-8 horses, these wagons made an indelible impression on all who saw them.
The average town band, however, could not afford such elaborate wagons. Making the most of their resource at hand, they decorated farm or delivery wagons with flags and bunting and added hay bales for seating.
With the advent of the automobile, decorated trucks and trailers were increasingly employed as bandwagons. Today, this is virtually all that one sees. Absent the spectacle of live horses and accompanied by the low rumble of the combustion engine, however, some of the mystique of the old bandwagons has been lost.