The History of the Carousel or Merry-Go-Round

The merry-go-round, or carousel, is a staple at amusement parks everywhere, but where and when did this type of ride originate, and how has it changed since its origin? Learning about the history of carousels provides insight into how these rides became so popular and why you can still find them today at most amusement parks, fairs, and even shopping malls. If you are a merry-go-round lover, this more in-depth look into the history of the rides, why everyone seems to love them, and the variations that exist today is for you.

What is a Carousel or Merry-Go-Round?

Using the simplest explanation, carousels are rides that involve the use of various types of seating attached to a rotating platform. Traditionally, when people think of carousels, it conjures up an image of seating in the shape of animals, such as horses or circus animals, moving up and down while the entire platform rotates. The ride is typically accompanied by circus-type music played on a loop.

How Were the First Carousels Designed?

The first merry-go-rounds were not rides at all. The concept was developed way back in the 12th century by knights who wanted to hone their agility and jousting skills. After mounting their horses, the knights would form a circle and gallop while simultaneously tossing a ball back and forth. This game was referred to as the little battle or carousel. The knights also used this technique to train for war. It’s easy to see how the first evidence of carousels led to the development of later rides with horses pretending to gallop while being arranged in a circle.

How Did Early Carousels Become Modern-Day Amusement Park Rides?

Variations of the carousel skill game persisted well into the 17th century and evolved into other skill-building events, such as spearing overhead rings while still galloping in circles. Children were enamored with these games of skill, so soon, make-believe imitation carousels with wooden horses were created just for them. Many children wanted to be able to actually move in a circle during this pretend plan, so by the 18th century traveling fairs began to feature merry-go-rounds that involved wooden animals suspended by chains to a mechanism that would spin in a circle when hand-cranked or pulled by either horses or humans. Music was later added as an additional feature.

As carousels gained even more popularity, engineers and inventors improved the design and made many changes over time. The platform model was developed by the middle of the 19th century, and soon after, a steam-powered version was created to replace the need for horses or humans to turn the crank. Gear mechanisms were later added to give the horses their signature up-and-down movement and more closely resemble the rides still seen today.

Electricity replaced the steam engines, and with the addition of electricity came light-up carousels. This technology also allowed automatic band organs to be installed. Further advancements included the replacement of the organ with modern speakers

These days, you can expect to see variations of the carousel, though the spirit of the original game still resides within. Some have animals, while others use seats, swings, or cars, but all are designed with fun in mind.

Come Experience an Amazing Carousel For Yourself

If you are in the Somers, CT area, you can experience the excitement of a historic carousel at Sonny’s Place. This ride was constructed in 1925 and features hand-carved moving horses, stationary horses, and chariots. Contact Sonny’s Place online or call (860) 356-3518 today with questions about any of the numerous available attractions.

Image Credit: Shutterstock/R0macho