The History of the Carousel

Wikipedia – The modern carousel emerged from early jousting traditions in Europe and the Middle East. Knights would gallop in a circle while tossing balls from one to another; an activity that required great skill and horsemanship. This game was introduced to Europe at the time of the Crusades from earlier Byzantine and Arab traditions. The word carousel originated from the Italian garosello and Spanish carosella (“little battle”, used by crusaders to describe a combat preparation exercise and game played by Turkish and Arabian horsemen in the 12th century).[3] This early device was essentially a cavalry training mechanism; it prepared and strengthened the riders for actual combat as they wielded their swords at the mock enemies.

Australian racegoers enjoy a merry-go-round at the Deepwater Races, c. 1910. (State Library of New South Wales)
Australian racegoers enjoy a merry-go-round at the Deepwater Races, c. 1910. (State Library of New South Wales)

By the 17th century, the balls had been dispensed with, and instead the riders had to spear small rings that were hanging from poles overhead and rip them off. Cavalry spectacles that replaced medieval jousting, such as the ring-tilt, were popular in Italy and France. The game began to be played by commoners, and carousels soon sprung up at fairgrounds across Europe. At the Place du Carrousel in Paris, an early make believe carousel was set up with wooden horses for the children.[4]

Savage's amusement ride, Sea-On-Land, where the riders would pitch up and down as if they were on the sea.
Savage’s amusement ride, Sea-On-Land, where the riders would pitch up and down as if they were on the sea.

By the early 18th century carousels were being built and operated at various fairs and gatherings in central Europe and England. Animals and mechanisms would be crafted during the winter months and the family and workers would go touring in their wagon train through the region, operating their large menagerie carousel at various venues. Makers included Heyn in Germany and Bayol in France. These early carousels had no platforms; the animals would hang from chains and fly out from the centrifugal force of the spinning mechanism. They were often powered by animals walking in a circle or people pulling a rope or cranking.

In the United Kingdom, merry-go-rounds usually turn clockwise, while in North America and Mainland Europe, carousels typically go anticlockwise as viewed from above.[5]

By the mid-19th century the platform carousel was developed; the animals and chariots were fixed to a circular floor that would suspend from a centre pole and rotate around. These carousels were called dobbies and were operated manually by the operator or by ponies.

In mid-19th century England, the carousel became a popular fixture at fairs. The first steam-powered mechanical roundabout, invented by Thomas Bradshaw, appeared at the Aylsham Fair in about 1861. It was described by a Halifax Courier journalist as:

a roundabout of huge proportions, driven by a steam engine which whirled around with such impetuousity, that the wonder is the daring riders are not shot off like cannon- ball, and driven half into the middle of next month.[6]
A 1909 horse by Marcus Illions in the Coney Island style. (Peter Greenberg)
A 1909 horse by Marcus Illions in the Coney Island style. (Peter Greenberg)

Savage’s amusement ride, Sea-On-Land, where the riders would pitch up and down as if they were on the sea.

Soon afterwards, the engineer Frederick Savage began to branch out of agricultural machinery production into the construction of fairground machines, swiftly becoming the chief innovator in the field. By 1870, he was manufacturing carousels with Velocipedes(an early type of bicycle) and he soon began experimenting with other possibilities, including a roundabout with boats that would pitch and roll on cranks with a circular motion, a ride he called ‘Sea-on-Land’.[7]

He soon applied a similar innovation to the more traditional mount of the horse; he installed gears and offset cranks on the platform carousels, thus giving the animals their well-known up-and-down motion as they travelled around the centre pole. The platform served as a position guide for the bottom of the pole and as a place for people to walk or other stationary animals or chariots to be placed. He called this ride the ‘Platform Gallopers’ . He also developed the ‘platform-slide’ which allowed the mounts to swing out concentrically as the carousel built up speed. Fairground organs (band organs) were often present (if not built in) when these machines operated. Eventually electric motors were installed and electric lights added, giving the carousel its classic look.

These mechanical innovations came at a crucial time, when increased prosperity meant that more people had time for leisure and spare money to spend on entertainment. It was in this historical context that the modern fairground ride was born,[8] with Savage supplying this new market demand. In his 1902 Catalogue for Roundabouts he claimed to have

…patented and placed upon the market all the principal novelties that have delighted the many thousands of pleasure seekers at home and abroad.[9] 
Carousel built in 1905 by Gustav Dentzel which is still operational in Rochester, New York. (Andreas F. Borchert)
Carousel built in 1905 by Gustav Dentzel which is still operational in Rochester, New York. (Andreas F. Borchert)

In the United States, the carousel industry was developed by immigrants, notably Gustav Dentzel of Germany and Dare from England, from the late 19th century. Several centers and styles for the construction of carousels emerged in the United States: Coney Island style – characterized by elaborate, and sometimes faux-jeweled, saddles[10] – with Charles I. D. Looff; Philadelphia style – known for more realistically painted saddles – with Dentzel and the Philadelphia Toboggan Company; and Country Fair style – often with no saddles at all – with Allan Herschell and Edward Spillman of western New York, and Charles W. Parker of Kansas. The golden age of the carousel in America was the early 20th century, with large machines and elaborate animals, chariots, and decorations being built.

Antique & notable carousels


  • The oldest existing carousel made in 1779 to 1780 stands in Germany at the Wilhelmsbad Park in Hanau.[12]



  • The first carousel (and amusement ride) at Coney Island, NY was hand-carved and built by Charles I. D. Looff in 1875 and installed at Mrs. Lucy Vanderveer’s Bathing Pavilion in 1876.
  • The Flying Horses Carousel currently in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts is the nation’s oldest platform carousel and has been designated by the U.S. Department of the Interior as a national landmark. Constructed in 1876 by Charles Dare, it is one of only two Dare carousels still in existence. Originally operated at a Coney Island, NY amusement park, it was moved to Oak Bluffs in 1884, where it has lived in its red barn, delighting generations of Island residents and visitors ever since. The carousel was acquired by the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust in 1986 to prevent it from being dismantled and sold piecemeal to collectors of antique carved horses.
  • The Flying Horse Carousel, located in Watch Hill, Westerly, Rhode Island, was built in 1876 and is listed as a National Historic Landmark. It is one of two Charles Dare carousels in existence, the other being the Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts. It is considered the oldest of its type “in which the horses are suspended from a center frame,” as opposed to being mounted on a wooden platform, which causes the horses to “fly” as the carousel gains speed.[13]
  • Melbourne Zoo’s Carousel was built in 1878 in England and imported to Australia in the 1880s by John Briggs an ancestor of Dorrie Freeman. The Carousel travelled the show circuit until 1963 before it finally arrived at Melbourne Zoo.



  • La Ronde is the current home of “Le Galopant” which is the oldest galloping carousel in the world. Built in 1885 in Bressoux by Belgian craftsmen, it stayed there until 1964 when it moved to New York for their World’s Fair. For Expo 67 it came to Montreal as part of the rides featured in La Ronde. In 2003, the Carousel underwent a meticulous restoration under the current park ownership, Six Flags.[14] More than $1 million was spent to refurbish the ride, which reopened in a new specially landscaped garden in 2007.[15]


  • Sydney‘s Darling Harbour Carousel is a New South Wales Heritage listed attraction. It is an example of an old Edwardian Carousel which are very rare nowadays. It is operated by a classic steam engine which has been retained. The Carousel dates back to the ‘Golden Age’ of Carousels between the 1890s to the 1920s.
  • Carters Steam Fair has a set of travelling Steam Gallopers that were originally built by Robert Tidman & Sons of Norwich in 1895 and run on steam to this day.[16]
  • The Crescent Park Looff Carousel in Riverside, Rhode Island was built in 1895 and still operates in its original location. The 61 horses, one camel, and four chariots have been restored and the ride renovated. Charles I. D. Looff used this carousel as a showpiece for prospective customers. This is one of the few carousels that feature a ring-arm with steel rings and a brass ring. The original A. Ruth & Sohn organ still plays music for the patrons.



  • The Forest Park Carousel, located in the Woodhaven section of the New York City borough of Queens, was built by Daniel C. Muller in 1903 and is one of only two surviving Muller brothers carousels.[17] It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.[18]
  • Still in operation, the historic Dentzel Menagerie Carousel at Ontario Beach Park in Rochester, NY was installed at its present site in 1905. It is one of only fourteen operating antique menagerie carousels in the United States.[19]
  • Port Dalhousie, Ontario, Canada, at historic Lakeside Park, is home to an antique carousel which was carved by Charles I. D. Looff in 1905 and brought to St. Catharines in 1921. It continues to provide amusement for young and old alike, at just 5 cents a ride.[20]
  • The carousel at the Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich, MA was built in 1908 by Charles Looff and is electrically powered.
  • The carousel in Riverfront Park in Spokane, Washington is an original Looff carousel built in 1909 and installed at the Natatorium Park in Spokane.[21]

One of the carousels in Endicott, NY, West Endicott Park Carousel.
One of the carousels in Endicott, NY, West Endicott Park Carousel.


  • The historic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Looff Carousel, from 1911, is one of the few carousels still in its original location for more than 100 years. It is a “pure carousel” meaning all of the horses were provided by the same company that built the carousel. It is also one of the few with the rare combination of a working ring dispenser and outside row jumping horses. The carousel features three band organs including a rare Ruth & Sohn 96-key organ with 342 pipes. The Looff carousel was designated a national historic landmark in 1987.[22]
  • The Merry-Go-Round located at Tilden Park in Berkeley, California was built in 1911 by the Herschel-Spillman Company and is one of the few carousels from its day still in operation. In 1976 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[23][24]
  • The Nunley’s Carousel that once operated at Nunley’s Amusement Park, Baldwin, N.Y. was built in 1912 by the Stein and Goldstein Artistic Carousell Co. When the park closed in 1995, the carousel was purchased by Nassau County and placed in storage. It was fully restored and opened in 2009 at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, N.Y.[25]
  • Cafesjian’s Carousel was a mainstay at the Minnesota State Fair from 1914 to 1988 when it was saved from the auction block by a non-profit group organized to save the landmark. The carousel is now located in Como Park in Saint Paul, Minnesota.[26]
  • The Santa Monica Looff Hippodromel was designed and built in 1916 on the Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, California to hold a Looff Carousel. Looff’s carousel was housed at the Hippodrome until it was sold in 1939. It was replaced by Philadelphia Toboggan Company Carousel #62, which was moved from the Ocean Park Pier. Since 1977, the carousel has been owned by the city.[27] The building remains a rare example of structures that used to be on the amusement pier. It was restored from 1977 through 1981. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987.[28]
  • The Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum in North Tonawanda, NY has two working carousels: The largest is a 1916 model that is 40 feet (12.2 m) in diameter, with 36 hand-carved horses and over 580 lights. The second is a small aluminum carousel specifically designed for children.[29] The museum is located in the building complex which housed the Allan Herschell Company and is the only museum in the world housed inside an authentic carousel factory.[29]



  • The Grand Carousel at Kennywood Park was built by William H. Dentzel in 1926 and is a National Historic Landmark. The music on this carousel is provided by a 1916 Wurlitzer Style #153 Military Band Organ and over 1500 lights decorate this ride. The carousel features 50 jumping and 14 stationary horses, a magnificent lion and tiger, and Dentzel’s signature Jesters and Cherubs.[30]
  • The Antique Carousel currently in use at Canada’s Wonderland in Toronto, Ontario, was built in 1928 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company.[31] Originally located in Palisades Park, New Jersey the carousel was also used at Happy Hastings, Vancouver, BC, and Palace Playland, Old Orchard Beach, Maine, before it was purchased by Taft Broadcasting in the 1970’s and put into storage. It opened in its current location in 1981.[32]
  • The carousel at Heritage State Park in Holyoke, MA was built in 1929 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters company and assembled at the now shuttered Mountain Park. The carousel was reassembled and preserved (in full operation) at Heritage State Park with the help of John Hickey and the Holyoke Water Power Company in 1993.



  • The King Arthur Carrousel has existed since 1932 and was moved to Disneyland in 1954. It is an assembly of two carousels. Walt Disney wanted it to have four courses of all jumpers. The remaining chariot woodwork was repurposed as the “Calliope” tenders of Casey Jr. Circus Train powered gravity coaster.[33]



  • The carousel at Harper Motors is an iconic landmark on the North Coast of California. It was bought by the dealerships owner Harvey Harper in 1991, after purchase this 1947 Allan Herschell Carousel was shipped to Oakland by train and drive to Eureka in a semi-truck. It took a year to assemble on site. It was refurbished and repainted in 2013 which caused the ride to be closed for a month. It is open daily free of charge to the public from 12-4 except on holidays and when inclement weather doesn’t allow for riders.[34]


Carousel in Bobbejaanland, Belgium
Carousel in Bobbejaanland, Belgium

Unique and record breaking

  • The carousel at Phantasialand in Germany is one of the biggest in the world, made by Preston & Barbieri one historical amusement ride factory in Italy.[35]
  • The world’s only two-row stationary carousel built from an original Dentzel blueprint left in existence,[36] the Highland Park Dentzel Carousel and Shelter Building, is located in Highland Park in Meridian, Mississippi.
  • In May 2005, William Henry Dentzel III, built the world’s first solar-powered carousel. The carousel operates during Solfest at the Solar Living Institute in Hopland, California.[37][38]
  • There is only one carousel in the world that rides in a waving motion – “Over the Jumps: The Arkansas Carousel” in Little Rock, Arkansas. It is also the only remaining wooden track carousel built by the Herschell & Spillman Company, and one of only four track carousels still in existence.
  • The carousel at Conneaut Lake Park in Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania is the last T.M. Harton Carousel that is still in operation and its Artizan band organ is one of two known of the same model in the world.
  • In 2006, SeaWorld Orlando opened Sea Carousel, Florida’s first aquatic carousel.
  • Binghamton, New York is considered the “Carousel Capital of the World” for the six original carousels in the Triple Cities area, donated by George F. Johnson, owner of the Endicott-Johnson Company early in the 20th century. These Carousels, manufactured by the Allen Hershell Company in the “country fair” style, were donated with the express stipulation that they would never charge admission for anyone to ride them. Apparently when Mr. Johnson was a child he was frequently too poor to ride the local carousel and he vowed this would never happen to another child in the area. The carousel at the Ross park zoo in Binghamton, NY does charge admission, in a way, as it requires the child to drop one piece of litter found in the park into a trash barrel in order to ride. This is all written on a plaque at the entrance to the carousel.{Greater Binghamton New York Convention and Visitors Bureau,, March 2014}
  • The two double-decker Columbia Carousels built by Chance Rides and located at Six Flags Great America and California’s Great America are the two tallest carousels in the world.[39]
  • The Merry-Go-Round at Bear Mountain State Park features hand-painted scenes of the Park and 42 hand-carved seats of native animals including black bear, wild turkey, deer, raccoon, skunk, Canada goose, fox, swan, bobcat, rabbit, and more.[40]
  • On Canada Day 2016, a new attraction was opened in Downtown Markham, Ontario. The Pride of Canada Carousel was commissioned by Christopher Bratty, current president of the real estate and development firm The Remington Group.[41] The carousel sits inside a glass pavillon designed by Sheldon Levitt from Quardrangle Architects.[42] The carousel itself features 44 ride-able reusable material sculptures representing different elements of Canadian culture. It was designed by artist Patrick Amiot who worked with the Brass Ring Carousel Company to build the ride.[43]
  • Ice floe carousels have been constructed on frozen lakes.[44]


Source: Wikipedia