History Of The Carousels

Even though 7,000 carousels were created years ago, only 300 remain in existence today. Read why this came about by reading this article.

Carousels were popular in America in the 1900's. At one time in history there were over 7,000 carousels created. Carousels originated in Europe. Even though 7,000 carousels were created years ago, only 300 remain in existence today. These magnificent and incredible machines began to deteriorate after the Depression and natural disasters. In turn, they became badly neglected. America was the area where the carousels developed into what they are today. The age of the carousels lasted about twenty-five years.

The originals were created by immigrant craftsman. To view the originals people must travel to New York and California where the majority of the originals are located. The Grand Carousel in Libertyland Park, Memphis, Tennessee, was built by William H. Dentzel who was also known as "Hobby Horse Bill". The Dentzel Carousel, built by the Dentzel Carousel Company in 1920, now rests in Dollywood Park, Pigeon Forge. Interestingly enough, carousels only have horses. On the other hand, Merry-Go-Rounds can have various animals of different species.

The history of carousels dates back to the 12th century. In order to test a rider's skill, scented clay balls were thrown from one Arabian horseman to another. If there were riders that were untouched by the scent of the clay, they were considered to be superior riders. The French in the 17th century were able to change the ancient clay. A wheel which had wooden arms and suspended horses was used in place of the ancient clay. A pole was placed in the center of a circle, along with a wooden horse, which rotated around the pole. The object of the game was for the rider to attempt to spear a small brass ring on the outside section of the machine.



In a tournament-type game during the late 1700's or early 1800's, this machine was given the name of "˜carousel'. With the reign of Henry IV, the carousel was used as the entertainment. The entertainment consisted of pageants, drills, and contests with participating troops of costumed horsemen.

Located between the Tuileries Garden and the Louvre in Paris, is The Place du Carrousel. This was named after a carousel given by Louis XIV in 1662. A make believe carousel was created with hobbyhorses by an inventive Parisian toy maker. He wanted to give everyone an opportunity to enjoy these spectacular carousels because normally only those of nobility could enjoy. Yes, you guessed it! The platform did turn very slowly so that everyone, children and adults, could enjoy this event. The Parisian children were in awe! Soon the ride was spreading to America.

Poles with brass fixtures, glass mirrors that beveled, and incandescent lighting was added to the original carousels. Band organ music was introduced to add the magic to the ride as we now feel. A wooden horse manufacturer, Allen Herschell, sold his firm in 1950 to a maker of fiberglass horses. As you can imagine authentic wooden horses today are valued from $200 to $80,000. Depending on their age and condition, this value will vary. These simple magnificent machines of the past were now being developed into elaborate machines. The carousel as an art form between 1867 and 1930 has been neglected. Luckily, the students of both Art and History are now recognizing it.

Keep in mind that the best carousels were found in America, not Europe. The immigrant craftsmen wanted to make sure that their work reflected their dreams of what coming to America meant. The true American spirit was seen in the unique and free-flowing styles of the horses created in America.

The brass rings that were on the horses on the older carousels were present so that people could try to grab in order to get a free ride. Today the brass rings are mostly gone. Riders are treated to this fun in a few places.

Usually the most decorative are the horses that face the public. This is referred to as the "˜romance side'. The horse that is on the outside directly behind the chariot is referred to as the "˜lead (King) horse'. These are considered the fanciest on the ride. The benches for people who do not want to hold the reins are called lover's seats. These are also referred to as "˜chariots (gondolas)'.

Remembering the days of those incredible and decorative carousels, our minds revert back to our wonderful childhood memories. The beautiful and exquisite carousel horses and the calming chariot rides will remain a part of our vivid childhood forever.

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