When you study the history of carousels, you discover many interesting facts about these colorful rides. I thought I would share some of these with you. I hope you find them interesting.
In England, carousels have been called roundabouts and galopers. It is also interesting to note that in England, the carousel turns clockwise while American carousels have always turned counterclockwise. It is easy to tell the origin of a carousel horse because the side facing outward was more heavily carved and adorned than the side facing inward. The side facing the audience is called the "romance" side.
The reason carousels rotate clockwise in England is so that the horse may be properly mounted the left side.
In France, these rides are called carrousels and manèges de chevaux de bois.
In Germany, they are called karussell.
In America, in addition to carousels they have been called whirligigs, flying horses, hobby horses and of course merry-go-rounds.
The golden age of carousels lasted only 25 years and ended in 1920.
The people who built the first carousels in America were mostly immigrant craftsmen skilled in the detailed wood craft of church interiors of the period.
Over 6000 carousels were built during the carousel era. Only about 200 of these original hand crafted machines have survived till today. Most were lost in storms, fires, and neglect. It was common for amusement parks to be constructed in low lying areas which were flood prone. Many carousels were lost to floods.
Common themes for carousels were patriotism, cowboys and Indians, the cavalry, nursery rhymes, and animals and sea creatures. Other interesting figures seen on carousels were the statue of liberty, uncle Sam, presidential portraits, and eagles.
Horses with at least 3 feet touching the floor are called "standing figures." Horses with two back feet resting on the platform and front feet posed in the air are called "prancers." Horses with all four feet in the air and called "jumpers" and are the ones that move up and down.
Figures other than horses were called "menagerie" animals. Less of these creatures were made because children found horses to be less intimidating.
Some carousels in Germany were two story double deckers. They were not popular in America due to difficulties in quickly loading and unloading passengers.
Carousels came in three, four or five row sizes.
Collecting original carousel figures became quite popular in the 1970's. These hard to find carved figures bring heavy prices well over $100,000.
Most of the carousel figures seen today on modern machines, are made of fiberglass and are molded from the original hand carved figures.
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