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Friday, April 21, 2017

Carousels: A History and Celebration

The American Carousel

Carousels can be found in shopping malls, theme parks, zoos, county fairs, and public parks all over the United States.  The oldest and most prized carousels were carved in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by European immigrants, though there are still workshops today that specialize in hand-carving carousel animals from wood.  Equally prized by history buffs, artists, and fun-seekers everywhere, the carousel has a unique place in attraction design.

A Very Short History of the Carousel

For a slightly less brief version, check out Episode 6! (Streaming app can be found below)

The earliest carousels were man-powered swings, though some later models used real horses to turn the machines.  Steam power allowed for a fully automated machine in the mid-1880s.

The aesthetic of modern carousel ponies can be attributed to the beautiful and flashy armor worn by knights and horses in tournaments.

The Golden Age of Carousels took place in the early 20th century.  More American carousels were manufactured during this period than any other time.  Most of the Craftsmen were immigrants.  While there are dozens of Master Carvers, some of the most recognizable names are Marcus C. Illions, Allan Herschell, Gustav and William Dentzel, the Muller brothers, Charles Carmel, Solomon Stein, Henry Goldstein, and Charles Looff.

Most carousel workshops closed permanently during the Great Depression.  It wasn't until the 1970s and 1980s that interests in carousels rekindled, bringing historians, collectors, artists, and woodcarvers together.

There are five museums dedicated to carousels in the United States.  They are located in Ohio, New York, Kansas, Oregon, and Connecticut.





Unlike my other episodes so far, I relied heavily on books to help write the episode on carousel history.  I highly recommend that you read them.  They have a lot of information and the most beautiful photographs!

Anderson, Sharrell S.  "Carousel Horses: A Photographic Celebration".  Courage Books, 2000.

Fraley, Tobin.  "The Great American Carousel:  A Century of Master Craftsmanship".  Chronicle Books, 1994.

Fraley, Tobin.  "Carousel Animals: Artistry in Motion".  Chronicle Books, 2002.

Manns, William, Peggy Shank, & Marianne Stevens.  "Painted Ponies: American Carousel Art".  Zion International Design, 1986.

Papa, Carrie.  "The Carousel Keepers:  An Oral History of American Carousels."  The MacDonald & Woodward Publishing Company, 1998.

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