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Carousel Facts and History

    Carousel fun facts

     

    • Carousel facts and historySome carousel advertisements in early nineteenth century America stated that the ride was highly recommended by physicians as an aid in circulating the blood.

    • Reputedly, one of the C.W. Parker Company’s most notable former employees was Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander of D-Day in World War II and later U.S. President, who, as a young lad, was said to have sanded carousel horses at the Parker factory located near his home in Abilene, Kansas.

    • The St. Bernard is one of the carousel’s most rare "menagerie" figures (animals other than horses).

    • Between 2,000 and 3,000 carousels were produced in the U.S. during its "golden age" of wooden carousels (early 1880s to early 1930s); today, there are only 165-175 still left operating.

    • The earliest known use of the term "merry-go-round" is found in a poem written by Englishman George Alexander Stevens in 1729.

    • Contrary to popular belief, "golden age" carousel figures were not carved out of a single piece of wood; instead, several body panels were connected using wooden blocks, the whole of which was then worked over to create a basic (hollow) body; the head, legs, and tail were then attached, having been crafted by the manufacturer’s most talented carvers since the detail of these elements was essential in defining the figure’s personality.

    • To relax before taking off on what became the first successful solo nonstop trans-Atlantic flight in 1927, American aviator Charles Lindbergh ventured down to Coney Island to ride the carousel.

    • Carvers from the "golden age" would sometimes craft the mane of a horse figure so as to create a pocket where the hand could grasp it to help swing the rider into the saddle.

    • The oldest operating platform carousel in the United States, named the "Flying Horses," dates from 1876 and is located on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

    • Carousels have been featured in such popular Broadway musicals as Carousel and such famous movies as Mary Poppins and The Sting.

    • The town of Mansfield, Ohio, may be the only one in America to have initiated its downtown revitalization efforts with a brand new wooden carousel, completed and unveiled in 1991.

    • All carousels manufactured by Peter Petz Productions of Germany are pre-dated by 100 years (thus 1998 becomes 1898) to give his period pieces an even greater nineteenth century feel.

    • Figures on America’s "golden age" carousels were typically arranged by size according to their concentric row, with the largest situated on the outer edge progressing to the smallest in by the centerpole.

    • There are less than twenty carousels with operating brass ring machines left in the U.S.

    • At its annual conventions in the late 1920s, IAAPA held carving contests entered by a number of America’s premier carousel manufacturers.

    • Measuring 80 feet wide, weighing 35 tons, and containing 269 hand-crafted animals, the carousel at The House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin, USA, is the world’s largest.

    • In the early 1940s, Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered that Britain’s carousels be re-opened, despite widespread material shortages, in an effort to boost morale during World War II.

    • The original entrance sign to the shop of one of America’s earliest carousel pioneers, Gustav Dentzel, is on display at the Merry-Go-Round Museum in Sandusky, Ohio, USA, and dates from around 1867.

    • Patriotic trappings such as flags and eagles were often incorporated into figures crafted by the many immigrant carvers who helped create America’s "golden age" of wooden carousels.

    • Many amusement parks and attractions around the world employ a carousel theme in one section of their facility with names like Carousel Kingdom or Square or Cove or Circle.

    • The U.S. Postal Service has twice issued commemorative stamps honoring the carousel, in 1988 and in 1995.

    • Located in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Horsin’ Around is one of America’s few carousel figure carving schools.

    • "Golden age" carvers in the United States occasionally inscribed their initials in a figure and, even more rarely, their full name.

    • Along with roller coasters, carousels are the oldest amusement ride still in use.

    • The only operating steam-powered carousel left in the U.S. is hard at work every Labor Day weekend at the annual Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion in Rollag, Minnesota.

    • Germany’s Peter Petz Productions makes both hand-cranked and solar-powered carousels.

    • Menagerie figures are enjoying a current resurgence in popularity, a trend no doubt benefiting from the labors of The Carousel Works in Mansfield, Ohio, USA, which makes a carousel whose figures consist entirely of endangered species.

    • America’s earliest known carousel seems to have appeared in 1799 in Salem, Massachusetts, and was advertised as a wooden horse "circus ride."

    • Carousel chariots from the "golden age" typically had two seats to accommodate ladies and small children, as the customs of that era precluded women from sitting astride the machine’s horses; chariots allowed them the thrill of a carousel ride without sacrificing their dignity.

    • The smooth galloping motion so familiar to today’s riders actually had quite a few competitors in its early days: some figures rocked, either forwards and back or from side to side, while others used a "grasshopper" mechanism (attached to the platform at the rear of each figure) to spring forward.

    • In the early 1900s, Euclid Beach Park in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, possessed quite a unique carousel: it tilted at a 10-degree angle. The aim, one would assume, was to create a more thrilling ride, yet no other versions of this machine are known to have been built.

    • Some "golden age" carvers like John Zalar and Daniel C. Muller received formal instruction in fine arts and sculpture either before or during their carousel careers.

    • Spurred by a surge of patriotism following the Boer War (1899-1902), centaurs appeared on several British-made carousels; these double-seater horses replaced their usual heads with lifelike, waist-up carvings of domestic political or military heroes.

    • Some horses produced during the "golden age" were originally outfitted with a mane and/or tail made of real horsehair.

    • Thanks to the generosity of local businessman George F. Johnson, all those who enter Broome County, New York, USA, are entitled to ride any of the classic antique Herschell-Spillman carousels which he donated to several Broome communities in the 1920s; the price of admission is but one piece of litter, the reason being that no one should be denied a ride.

    • The figures on the circa 1906 carousel at Vidam Park in Budapest, Hungary, point out from its centerpole, like the hands of a clock, rather than the traditional configuration of one side of the figure facing the centerpole and the other facing the crowd.

    • Boasting figures by master carvers Charles Carmel, M.C. Illions, and Charles Looff, the classic 1900 Mangels "B&B Carousel" is the last remaining wooden machine on Coney Island, New York, USA.

    • Speakers Corner in London’s Hyde Park has now added one more diversion to its regular offering of daily debates: a Mardi Gras UK Ltd. carousel with murals of local scenery.

    • Undergoing a steady restoration supervised by the National Park Service, the "golden age" 1921 Dentzel carousel located at Glen Echo Park in Glen Echo, Maryland, USA, is the only carousel owned by the U.S. government.

    • The top of the carousel at the Eco Musee in Mulhouse, France, rotates in the opposite direction of the figures down below, thus giving you the illusion that the machine is moving faster than it really is.

    A Chronology of the Carousel’s Development

  • circa 500 AD: Byzantine etching from this period is earliest known record of a carousel device

     

  • late 1400s – 1600s: French royalty transform the game "carrousel," brought back to Europe by the crusaders, into a grand event of pageantry and horsemanship

     

  • circa 1680: the first rudimentary carousel is developed in France as a training device for young princes readying themselves for the ring-spearing portion of the "carrousel" tournament

     

  • circa 1867: Gustav A. Dentzel, one of America’s carousel pioneers, hangs a sign above the door of his Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, shop advertising himself as a "carousel builder"

     

  • 1870: an English engineer-manufacturer named Frederick Savage improves upon his contemporaries’ initial efforts to apply steam power to carousels, thereby increasing the feasible size and scope of these machines

     

  • circa 1880 – early 1930s: development of full-scale carousel and amusement park industries in both Europe and the U.S. leads to a "golden age" of wooden carousels, particularly in America, marked by masterful carvers and innovations such as the devices creating the now-familiar up-and-down galloping motion and the spread of electricity in place of steam

     

  • circa 1900 – early 1920s: introduction of the reproducing pantograph (which could "rough out" the bodies and heads of six carousel figures at a time from one preset pattern) fuels an industry boom

     

  • mid-1910s – mid-1930s: raw material shortages during World War I followed later by the global economic depression of the 1930s combine to provoke a steady, and ultimately comprehensive, wave of conversion to new, more cost-effective production methods, including completely aluminum figures, thus bringing an end to the "golden age" of hand-carved wooden carousels

     

  • early 1950s – mid-1970s: fiberglass replaces aluminum as the preferred material for carousel figures, very gradually and experimentally at first, then more rapidly once David Bradley of the Bradley & Kaye Company perfects the production of molds that can replicate the detailed patterns created by the master carvers of the "golden age"

     

  • Today: the spirit of those grand turn-of-the-century machines remains ever-present, not only in the molds based on classic carvings and the bright artistry of an entire ride, but also in the wooden figures still being produced for existing and new carousels by Mexican craftsmen, companies like The Carousel Works and Carrousel Magic!, both of Mansfield, Ohio, USA, and a new generation of talented individual carvers throughout the United States

     

  • Carousels have a language all their own

    How can I tell the difference between a prancer and a jumper? What in the world is a "stationary" carousel? Where is the cantle located on each figure? Read on and find out.

    • Abreast: the number of concentric rows of figures on a carousel (e.g., a three-abreast carousel has three figures side by side all the way round the machine)

    • BandOrgan: instrument which produces loud, rhythmic music to accompany the movement of the carousel; is often part of the central housing which contains the drive mechanism and centerpole; its system of continuous rolls of paper music evolved from the set-pattern technologies associated with eighteenth century innovations in sewing

    • Brass Ring Machine: mechanism with arm located along the outer edge of the carousel which dispenses silver rings and an occasional brass ring, the latter of which means a free ride to the patron who happens to grab it

    • Cantle: the raised portion at the back of a figure’s saddle

    • Centerpole: the upright post from which the entire carousel is suspended

    • Factory Paint: paint which has been applied by a carousel company that is not necessarily the original manufacturer of the figure

    • Inside Row: the concentric row of figures closest to the centerpole

    • Jewels: glass inserts, usually faceted and of various shapes and colors, which simulate precious stones

    • Jumper: horse that goes up and down with no feet touching the platform

    • King (or Lead) Horse: largest and most ornate horse on a machine, always found in the outside row and sometimes inscribed with the manufacturer’s name or initials

    • Master Carver: a top carver whose job included creating master patterns for wooden figures which were then copied by the manufacturer’s remaining craftsmen; such an artisan might also be known sometimes as a "head carver," since the heads and legs of wooden carousel figures were traditionally reserved for the most talented carvers

    • Menagerie Figure: any carousel animal other than a horse

    • Mixed Machine: a carousel with figures manufactured by more than one company

    • Original Paint: the paint that a carousel figure or trim has when it initially leaves the manufacturer

    • Outside Row: the outermost concentric row of figures, some of which are usually the largest on the machine

    • Panels: decorative pieces, often mirrored or depicting a painted scene, used to hide the centerpole and drive mechanism of the machine

    • Park Paint: paint which has been applied to the figures by those operating the carousel as part of maintenance or restoration

    • Pin Striping: a fine line of paint applied as a decoration on the trappings of a carousel figure

    • Platform: the floor of the carousel which is suspended from the centerpole’s sweeps using steel rods

    • Prancer: stationary horse with rear feet on platform, front legs raised

    • PTC: acronym for Philadelphia Toboggan Company (known today as Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters), whose carousels are often referred to simply by their company identification number (e.g., PTC #68)

    • Pure Carousel: all the figures on board were produced by the company that originally manufactured the carousel

    • Relief Carvings: forms projected from the flat surface of the carved figures; on horses, usually found near the neck or along the hindquarters; human forms could range from the carver’s own face to that of such luminaries as Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln

    • Romance Side: the "public" side of the carousel figure which faces away from the centerpole and toward the approaching rider, and thus is more elaborate and ornate in its detail

    • Rounding Boards (or Crestings): long, narrow decorative pieces used in conjunction with shields to cover the perimeter of the carousel formed by the sweeps emanating from the top of the centerpole

    • Shields: oval, round, or shaped like a medieval coat of arms, these plaques cover where the rounding boards meet

    • Stander: stationary horse with either three or four feet on the platform, usually larger and found on the outside row

    • Stationary Carousel: a machine with no jumping or moving figures

    • Sweeps: the long planks radiating out from the top of the centerpole (by means of cables) and used to suspend the platform (by means of steel rods)

    • Trappings: refers to the equipment and coverings of a figure

     

    This Merry-go-round opened in 1915 in Oil City Derrick

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