Originally written on July 25, 2022 – updated 2023
When we think of carousels, we think of the beautifully designed horses, with metal poles mounted down the center and accompanied by circus or traditional music.
For ages carousels have been a huge part of our history and the their idea have been around for centuries before America even existed.
So, to observe the legendary history of carousels, Carousel Day is a day also for that.
So enjoy the ride!
The purpose of Carousel Day is to honor this amazing invention.
A carousel, also known as a merry-go-round, is a sort of amusement ride, which consists of a circular platform that rotates and has seats for riders. Traditionally, these seats would be wooden horses or other animals, but also coaches or similar. However, we can admire different themed carousels pop up around the world.
Some of the most intriguing and magical carousels can be found at the Musée des Arts Forains at the Pavillons de Bercy in Paris, Wisconsin’s House on the Rock, but also the Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn, New York, or the Stoomcarrousel in Efteling, in the Netherlands, special for several reasons.
Jane’s Carousel, for example, is housed in a glass box, providing amazing urban views of New York, while the Stoomcarrousel is a much older carousel, which celebrates steam power. It was built in 1895, and it traveled around many places until an amusement park in Efteling purchased it in 1956. But these are just a few of the incredible carousels you can find around.
Either way, in order to understand the history of Carousel Day….we need to understand the history of the carousel!
One of the first conceptual designs for a carousel was in 500 A.D. in the Byzantine Empire, which depicts baskets, carrying riders, suspended from a central pole.
This was an activity that needed excellent horsemanship and skill and, in fact, the word carousel comes from the Italian word “garosello” and Spanish word “carosella”, that literally means “little battle”. The name references the sixth-century style of jousting in Europe and Asia, where knights on horses would ride in a circle while attempting to catch balls of perfume being thrown at them.
This was used by crusaders as a description of the combat preparation exercises and games that were played by the Arabian and Turkish horsemen during the 12th century. In the 17th century, children began to play a mock version of this game by riding on horses made of wood.
There were carousels being created and operated at a number of different gatherings and fairs in England and Central Europe in the early 18th century.
Several people contributed to the development of modern carousels. One of the most prominent was Gustav Dentzel who emigrated from Germany to the United States and revived his family’s carousel business. He has been credited as the first to include animal menagerie in his carousels, such as lions, cats, tigers, and deer, apart from the traditional horses and chariots. However, he did not file a patent for his carousel designs.
Just like Franz Wiesenoffer, who created one of the first (or the first, depending the story you heard) merry-go-round in the United States in Hessville, Ohio. So they are not officially credited as creators.
Then, Bette Largent, President of the National Carousel Association, and carousel historian, Ronald Hopkins founded National Merry-Go-Round Day in 2014. Also called Carousel Day, it was celebrated to honor William Schneider of Davenport, Iowa who, due to patenting the carousel in 1871, is considered the official inventor of the modern carousel by the U.S. Patent Office.
The National Carousel Association, operating since 1973, aims to keep carousels running and preserve their history in the United States.
Since then, the NCA tracks the history of carousels all around the United States in its census. It is a non-profit organization and accepts donations to help keep history alive, while its census is a giant data collection of carousels all over North America, keeping track of vintage and modern carousels, as well as repairing old carousels to keep them functioning. Every year, the NCA hosts a convention called The New England Carousel Revolution, where people travel around in buses all over the New England area to check out vintage carousels in parks, museums, and boardwalks.
According to the NCA census, there are hundreds of registered carousels in the United States. In fact, chances are there is a carousel hiding your neighborhood just waiting to be visited!
If you are in USA, celebrate this holiday with a visit to your local fair by checking the national census on the NCA’s webpage!
If not, check your local area for local fairs or amusement parks and head on out there. If you’re interested in learning more about the history of your local carousel, find out!
Images from web – Google Research