Merry-go-rounds

The pleasure of spinning round and round was the first to be mechanised.

Carousels are known by many names: in England they are called roundabouts and gallopers, in France, carrousels and manèges (de chevaux de bois), in Germany, Karussell, Reitschule, in Austria, Ringelspiel, and in America, whirligigs, flying horses and merry-go-rounds. The development of the carousel has both an oriental and a European line, and no one knows exactly where or when the first carousel came into being. A Byzantine relief dating around A.D. 500 shows acrobats, jugglers and bears watching riders swing in baskets tied to a pole. An early 17th century drawing shows variations of Turkish carousels, as well as a kind of Ferris wheel, swings and other rides. It is said, that the word carousel has its origin in a contest of horsemanship called carosello (“little war”) in Italy, with older arabian roots, like “kurradsch“ (play with horses). The game found its way to the court of the French monarch, Charles VII. The French called it Carousel and transformed it into a magnificent event of pomp. Le Grand Carousel, planned by Louis XIV in 1662, was attended by thousands and took place in the square between the Tuileries gardens and the Louvre . Today, this area is still called Place du Carousel. The wonderful decorations of the horses during the tournaments inspired many carousel makers several centuries later. The French added the sport of ring piercing to the carousel. So young French noblemen trained for this game by lancing rings while riding legless wooden horses attached to a rotating platform. This practice machine quickly evolved into a popular form of entertainment, and local craftsmen began building their own versions. The carousel appealed to the aristocracy and peasants alike. By 1800 the new type of entertainment had spread throughout Europe. The size and weight were limited by its power source, which was supplied by horse, mule, man or child. Frederick Savage was the first, who combined steam power and carousel effectively in 1866. He invented a portable steam engine to turn the carousel and overhead cranking devices which allowed the animals go up and down. Hugo Haase was the first who applied electrical energy as driving power on a large scale in about 1881. In the last years of the 19th century the development of the modern ride with new and fast movements and effects begins. But the basic form of the carousel remained popular and a wide variety is built until our days.

A drawing of an eighteenth-century English ride.

An early roundabout. Notice the manual propulsion of both this carrousel and the wheel in the background. Mr. Jorrocks was a character from the books of Robert Surtees (1803-1864).

Berlin, 1866: a hand-operated merry-go-round in Hasenheide, at that time a popular amusement park.

An Italian steam-carousel at the Faenza fair, early 20th century.

Fair at Montmartre, Paris. Barrow women await consumer interest. On the ride not only children but adults as well.

In the 19th and early 20th century barrow women were a common sight at the fair. Markets and fairgrounds provided the only possibility to earn some money. Around the last turn of the century a town like London counted circa 30.000 female street vendors. Usually they were married to craftsmen or workers, but there were also many single women and widows. They often lived in the suburbs. At the break of dawn they loaded their carts and wheel barrows and pushed them towards their points of sale.

A whirligig at a Dutch fair.

Fair of Saint Anthony in Prato della Valle in Padova, Italy. The photo was taken in 1906.

The Russian Wheel was one of the draws at the Vienna Prater in 1873. It was the predecessor of the Riesenrad, which was built in 1897.

Parc Monceau. Young french noblemen, practicing ...riding ...on a rotating platform...