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A carousel (from French carrousel, from Italian carosello), or merry-go-round, is an amusement ride consisting of a rotating circular platform with seats for riders. The "seats" are traditionally in the form of rows of wooden horses or other animals mounted on posts, many of which are moved up and down via gearwork to simulate galloping, to the accompaniment of looped circus music. This leads to one of the alternative names, the galloper. Other popular names are roundabout and flying horses. Both "carousel" and "merry-go-round" are used with equal frequency in North America while the latter is usually used elsewhere and "roundabout" is quite common in the United Kingdommarker.

Modern carousels in America are generally populated with horses. Carousels in Europe, and in America from earlier periods, frequently include diverse varieties of mounts, like pigs, zebras, mythological creatures (such as dragons, sea monsters or unicorns), and deer, to name a few. Sometimes, chair or bench-like seats are used as well, and occasionally mounts can be shaped like airplanes or cars, though these do not always go up and down.

Any rotating platform may also be called a carousel. In a playground, a roundabout or merry-go-round is usually a simple, child-powered rotating platform with bars or handles to which children can cling while riding. At an airport, rotating conveyors in the baggage claim area are often called carousels.


The earliest known depiction of a carousel is in a Byzantine bas-relief dating to around 500 A.D., which depicts riders in baskets suspended from a central pole. The word carousel originates 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 1100s. In a sense this early device could be considered a cavalry training mechanism; it prepared and strengthened the riders for actual combat as they wielded their swords at the mock enemies. European Crusaders discovered this device and brought the idea back to their own lands. A carousel was also a training device for the ring-tilt, consisting of wooden horses suspended from arms branching from a center pole. Riders aimed to spear rings situated around the circumference as the carousel was moved by a man, horse, or mule.

Carousel was also the term for large "horse ballet" or Musical Ride spectacles mounted as part of the court festivities for special occasions such as royal weddings or state visits from the mid-16th century onwards, which gradually replaced serious jousting, although non-combat competitions such as the ring-tilt lasted until the 18th century. They were developed in Italy, especially by the Medici Grand-Dukes in Florencemarker, and the first French example was in Paris in 1605. These usually took place in squares or large courtyards, and consisted of elaborately costumed riders and horses (usually from the cavalry) performing choreographed routines such as forming shapes together, riding in lines criss-cross against each other. They often took place at night, with riders carrying torches, and were accompanied by music. From the 17th century large decorated floats with allegorical figures were often included. The Place du Carrouselmarker in Paris was so named from 1662, when it was used for such a display by Louis XIV.

In 1620 the English traveler Peter Munday described a carousel ride he saw in modern Bulgariamarker, then part of the Ottoman Empire. By the early nineteenth century carousels were being built and operated at various fairs and gatherings in central Europe and England. For example, by 1745 AD, wagon-maker Michael Dentzel had converted his wagon-making business in what is now southern Germany to a carousel-making enterprise. 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. Other makers such as Heyn in Germany and Bayol in France were also beginning to make carousels at this time. In its own unique style, England was also rapidly developing a carousel-making tradition.

A roundabout at a fair in London, with traditional animal mounts, barley twist poles and fairy lights.
Early carousels had no platforms: the animals would hang on poles or chains and fly out from the centrifugal force of the spinning mechanism; these are called "flying horses" carousels. They were often powered by animals walking in a circle or people pulling a rope or cranking. By the mid-1800s the platform carousel was developed where the animals and chariots would travel around in a circle sitting on a suspended circular floor which was hanging from the centre pole; these machines were then steam-powered. Eventually, with the technological advances of the industrial revolution, bevel gears and offset cranks were installed on these platform carousels, thus giving the animals their well-known up and down motion as they traveled 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. 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.

Although the carousel developed gradually in European countries such as Germany, France, England, and Italy, it did not reach its full scale development until it went into its American phase. This began with several makers, primarily Gustav Dentzel, Michael Dentzel's son, of Germany, and Dare from England. Michael Dentzel sent all four of his sons over to America in the 1850s, one of them, Gustav, with a full and complete large carousel packed away on the steamship. In early 1860 Gustav set up his family's carousel in Philadelphia to test the American market. It met with great success. At the same time he opened up a carousel and cabinet workshop in Germantown. This eventually became the headquarters for one of America's greatest carousel-making families. Shortly after this beginning other carousel makers from Europe began to arrive on American shores. Many fine woodcarvers and painters, classically trained in their European homeland, worked for these early American companies. The Dentzels, being of German origin, also employed other Germans such as the Muller brothers and also many Italians, such as Salvador Chernigliaro.

The first carousel to be seen in the United States was created in Hessville, Ohio during the 1840s by Franz Wiesenhoffer. Several centers and styles for the construction of carousels emerged in the United States, Philadelphia style, with Dentzel and the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, Coney Island style with Charles Carmel, Charles I. D. Looff, Marcus Charles Illions, Soloman Stein and Harry Goldstein and Mangels, Country Fair style with Allan Herschell and Edward Spillman of Upstate New York, and C.W. Parker of Kansas. Early on the Dentzels became known for their beautiful horses and lavish use of menagerie animals on their carousels. Their mechanisms were also considered among the very best for durability and reliability. Gustav's sons, William and Edward operated the company until William's death in 1927 at which time the company was auctioned off. By this time many carousel companies had gone out of business or diversified into other rides due to the hardships of the depression. Young Edward Dentzel, who was operating carousels in Southern California at the time decided to stay there and become a luxury housing contractor in Beverly Hills; he eventually became the Mayor of that city in the early 1950s.

Detail of carousel horse, Edinburgh
Many carousel connoisseurs consider the golden age of the carousel to be early 20th century America. Very large machines were being built, elaborate animals, chariots, and decorations were superbly made by skilled old-world craftsmen taking advantage of their new freedoms in America. Large amounts of excellent and cheap carving wood were available such as Appalachian white pine, basswood, and yellow poplar. Whereas most European carousel figures are relatively static in posture, American figures are more representative of active beasts - tossed manes, expressive eyes and postures of movement are their hallmarks. The first carousel at Coney Island was built in 1876 by Charles I. D. Looff, a Danish woodcarver. The oldest functional carousel in Europe is in Praguemarker (Letná Park). Another style is a double-decker, where there is a huge carousel stacked on top of another. An example is the Columbia Carousel.

William H. Dentzel of Port Townsend, Washington is the only descendant from a founding American carousel family of the United States still making wooden carousels. His carousels are similar to the oldest operating carousel in the United States in Watch Hill, R.I. (1893) built by the Dare company, a "flying horses" machine. The power sources for Dentzel’s contemporary carousels range from rope-pull to hand-crank to foot-pedal to AC 110 volt electric to DC solar power.

In the USSRmarker in the 1970s and 1980s the carousel was not just a ride of amusement parks, but also an integral part of the urban culture. Many playgrounds, which existed in every yard, were equipped with a standard flower-shaped carousel, made of metallic bars with six wooden seats attached to them.

Notable carousels

  • The world's only two-row stationary carousel built from an original Dentzel blueprint left in existence, the Highland Park Dentzel Carousel and Shelter Buildingmarker, is located in Highland Parkmarker in Meridian, Mississippimarker.
  • Recently, William Henry Dentzel III, built the world's first solar-powered Carousel. The carousel is in operation in the Solar Living Institute in Hopland, Californiamarker.
  • There is only one carousel in the world that rides in a waving motion - "Over the Jumps: The Arkansas Carousel" in Little Rock, Arkansasmarker. 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 Hersheyparkmarker in Hershey, PAmarker is purposely misspelled as "Carrousel".
  • The carousel at Eldridge Park is one of the fastest in the world.
  • The carousel at Conneaut Lake Parkmarker in Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvaniamarker 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.
  • Binghamton, New Yorkmarker is considered the "Carousel Capital of the World" due to 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 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.
  • The oldest existing carousel made in 1779 to 1780 stands in Germany at the Wilhelmsbad Park in Hanau.
  • The carousel in Riverfront Park in Spokane, Washington is an original Looff carousel built in 1909 and installed at the Natatorium Park in Spokane.
  • The Richland Carrousel Park in Mansfield, Ohiomarker is an indoor carousel in the downtown Historic Carrousel District that was completed in 1991. It is the first hand-carved indoor wooden carousel to be built and operated in the United States since the early 1930s built by Carousel Works Inc.
  • Sydneymarker's Darling Harbourmarker Carousel is a New South Walesmarker Heritage listed attraction. It is an example of an old Edwardian Carousel which are very rare nowadays. It is operated by a classic steam motor which has been retained. The Carousel dates back to the 'Golden Age' of Carousels between the 1890s to the 1920s.
  • The Merry-Go-Round at Kennywoodmarker 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 band organ and over 1500 lights decorate this ride.
  • Cafesjian's Carousel was a mainstay at the Minnesota State Fairmarker 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 Parkmarker in Saint Paul, Minnesotamarker. [36543]
  • The Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum in North Tonawanda, NY is the only carousel museum in the world located in an original carousel factory building. It occupies the building complex which housed the Allan Herschell Company.

Media references

  • According to Holly Marie Combs in an episode of Charmed called "Forget me...not", "A merry-go-round has lots of animals. A carousel only has horses." This is not actually true; carousel and merry-go-round are synonyms.
  • A carousel in Venice, Italymarker, contains and releases magic and is the focal point of The Thief Lord (Both the book and the movie) by Cornelia Funke. This is most likely a reference to the carousel in Something Wicked This Way Comes, which has nearly identical powers.
  • In Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, the carnival's carousel can cause riders to become younger or older depending on the direction in which they ride.
  • At the end of The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Holden Caulfield watches his little sister riding on a carousel.
  • In The Lost Boys, the vampires can be seen on the Loof carousel on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalkmarker.
  • The musical Carousel (1945) was a broadway musical featuring hit songs such as "If I Loved You" and "You'll Never Walk Alone". The protagonist, Billy Bigelow, is a carousel barker.
  • In the Namco Bandai's Soul Calibur IV game, a stage of a medieval Eastern European carousel is present in the game.
  • In the movie Jeux d'Enfants (or Love Me If You Dare in the translated American title), a tin carousel box is used as a trade-off for a game of truth or dare that gets out of hand.
  • In the Konami video game Silent Hill, one of the final boss battles, including a series of cut scenes, between protagonist Harry Mason and police officer Cybil Bennett, takes place on and in the area immediately surrounding a carousel at the Lakeside Amusement Park.
  • The climax scene of the Hindi movie Ghayal by producer director Raj Kumar Santoshi was shot in an amusement park involving a carousel where the villain Balbantrai played by Amrishpuri was killed.
  • A carousel serves as a legitimate business cover for a house of prostitution in the 1973 film, The Sting.
  • The 1930s novelty song, The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down, is the theme song for the Looney Tunes series of cartoons by Warner Bros.
  • A 1966 crime drama film was titled Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round.
  • The Russian singing group t.A.T.u use a carousel as one of the main features in the music video "30 minut" where Lena Katina is making out with a boy and Yulia Volkova is looking on. The carousel explodes in the end as a result of Yulia Volkova placing dynamite inside Lena's school bag.
  • In the English version of the song "30 minutes" by t.A.T.u one of the lines says "Carousels in the sky."
  • In the movie Hannibal, While Clarice Starling is looking for Hannibal in one scene. Hannibal is riding on a carousel and watching Clarice looking for him.
  • A toy carousel with animals such as a beaver, a squirrel and a skunk is featured in a Wee Sing movie called "Grandpa's Magical Toys".


In the UKmarker and Europe, merry-go-rounds (as they are most often referred to in those countries) usually turn clockwise (see photograph at top), while in North America, carousels typically go anti-clockwise (or "counter-clockwise"). One mounts a real horse by lifting one's right leg over the animal's back as it stands with its head towards one's left (the horse's left side is called its "near" side). Likewise for a carousel that turns anti-clockwise: one stands on the near side of the horse to mount (towards the center of the carousel, not on its outer edge). One possible reason for carousels in the USA turning anti-clockwise may be so that the rider can use their right hand to catch a brass ring.


Image:Highland Park Dentzel Carousel 2.JPG|Dentzel Carouselmarker, a National Historic Landmark in Meridian, MSmarker, United Statesmarker.Image:ManegeAEtage.JPG|French old-fashioned style carousel with stairsImage:Bruxelles-Carousel.jpg|Modern carousel in BrusselsImage:DSCN0159 (Medium).JPG|Columbia is a Double Decker and the World's Tallest Traditional CarouselImage:Standard Soviet carousel.jpg|Standard Armenian carousel, 1930s-2000sImage:Goose Fair Roundabout.jpg|James Noyce & Sons' traditional "gallopers" at Nottingham Goose Fair in 1983Image:TrailDustTown_3.jpg|A 1920s C.W. Parker merry-go-round in Tucson, ArizonamarkerImage:Carrousel at Adventureland, Iowa.jpg|The Town Square Carrousel at Adventurelandmarker in Altoona, IowamarkerImage:Mangel_Illions_Carousel.jpg|The Mangels-Illions Carousel, after its 2000 restoration, on the grounds of the Columbus Zoo and Aquariummarker in Columbus, Ohiomarker.Image:The Richland Carrousel Park II.jpg|The Richland Carrousel Park in downtown Mansfield, Ohiomarker is the first hand-carved indoor wooden carousel to be built and operated in the United States since the early 1930s.Image:Merrygoroundcoventgardenlondon.JPG|A traditional Merry-go-round in Covent Gardenmarker, Londonmarker, August 2007Image:W.F._Mangels_Kiddie_Galloping_Horse_Carrousel.jpg|William F. Mangels Kiddie Galloping Horse Carrousel circa 1935Image:Kennywood Carousel DSCN2827.JPG|Kennywoodmarker's Merry-Go-Round built by William H. Dentzel in 1926 for the World's FairFile:MOA Carousel 040531b.JPG|Carousel at the Mall of Americamarker in Bloomington, Minnesotamarker

See also


  1. Merriam-Webster online dictionary
  2. Dentzel Carousel in Meridian, MS


External links

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