A HISTORY OF THE CAROUSEL
courtesy of IAAPA
With a growing market came new suppliers. In Europe, the beginnings of more formal, if sporadic, carousel production can be traced to the work of pioneers like Germany's Michael Dentzel in the 1830s, but full-time manufacturers did not appear until Fritz Bothmann, also of Germany, opened a carousel business in 1883. Bothmann's machines proved popular, but competition soon escalated, as more than fifteen companies opened over the next three decades, including: C. J. Spooner and J. R. Anderson, both of England; Bayol, Coquereau et Marechal, and N. Henri de Vos of France; and Heyn, Muller, Hubner, Buhler, and Poeppig, all of Germany.
A general carving style emerged from each of these three regions. English carousel figures were the easiest to identify because their "romance" side (the side which faced out and thus received more detailed carving) was on the left, unlike most other European and all American figures, whose outer side was on the right. This difference stemmed from the clockwise direction of English carousels which encouraged riders to mount their horse properly from the left and was a result of the fact that the ring-catching game so popular in continental Europe and America never caught on in England. Conversely, carousels in the U. S. and the rest of Europe rotated counter-clockwise to leave the right hand free to reach for the ring.
English figures bore distinctive artistic features, too - they had ornate trappings and were often big enough to carry more than one rider. Across the Channel, French carvers specialized in menagerie figures like cows, pigs, dogs, rabbits, elephants, and giraffes, and regularly produced machines that consisted of just one type of animal. In Germany, carousel figures were less lavish than their English counterparts, yet very similar in both facial expression and body position.
Simultaneous to these events in Europe was the rise of the American carousel industry. Crude, hand-cranked machines had appeared in the U. S. by the early nineteenth century and underwent incremental improvement for several decades thereafter, but America's development of more modern carousels owes much to Gustav A. Dentzel, who emigrated from Germany in 1860 and quickly established a cabinet-making shop in Philadelphia. Inspired by his father, Michael, who had built a number of carousels back home (see above), Gustav soon constructed his own small machine which was greeted enthusiastically by the public, and, around 1867, he began to advertise himself as a "caroussell builder. "
In 1870, after a move to larger quarters in nearby Germantown, Dentzel erected his first full-size carousel at Smith's Island, a popular amusement resort located in the Delaware River opposite Philadelphia's bustling Market Street. The ride proved a huge success, so Dentzel took it on a tour of the surrounding states, including stops in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Richmond, Virginia. Such widespread public exposure helped fuel America's fascination with carousels, and, one by one, additional companies arose to meet this increasing demand.
One of the first of these new entrants was Charles I. D. Looff, a Danish immigrant and woodworker who erected a carousel on New York's Coney Island in 1876 consisting of figures and decorative panels he had carved in his spare time. The ride was an instant hit and encouraged Looff to devote more of his time and resources to this fledgling industry.
As the Dentzel and Looff operations both grew, they each developed a particular style of carving which has continued to influence American carousel manufacture to the present day. Dentzel and his craftsmen employed elegant, expressive carvings in producing a "Philadelphia" style of more realistic and regal figures, often with militaristic trappings. Looff's "Coney Island" style, on the other hand, was comprised of more fanciful and animated figures which sported eye-catching adornments like jewels. Another American carousel maker emerged about the same time as Looff: he was Charles W. F. Dare, and his New York Carousal Manufacturing Company factory was located not far from Looff's Brooklyn plant. From the mid-1870s until his death in 1901, Dare produced mostly small, primitive machines, though one remains the oldest operating platform carousel in the U. S. today (the "Flying Horses" of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts dates from 1876).
The next two manufacturers to appear were practitioners of yet a third carving style known as "Country Fair" consisting of simple figures for use mainly on portable carousels which were built with travelling shows or country fairs in mind, hence the name. In 1882, Allan Herschell co-owner of the Armitage-Herschell Company of North Tonawanda, New York, convinced his partner, James Armitage, of the growing market for carousels. Their first "steam riding gallery" rolled out of the factory the following year and put a twist on the carousel's traditional mechanics by replacing the center pole and its radiating arms with a platform that rode on a circular track. The machine was also one of the earliest to include a small mechanical organ whose jaunty tunes have since become synonymous with carousels.
By 1893, "Colonel" Charles Wallace Parker of Abilene, Kansas, had decided that America's Midwest could use its own full-time carousel maker, and, within a year, he opened a factory to produce portable machines crafted in the "Country Fair" style as well. The success of Parker's ride, later nicknamed the "carry-us-all," enabled him to expand his business to include a full range of amusement equipment.
Three last manufacturers round out the list of those who were most prominent in the early development of the U. S. carousel industry. In 1903, Henry B. Achy and Chester E. Alright established the Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC; known today as Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters), with the aim of building "finer and better carousels and coasters. " The firm employed some of the greatest carvers of the 1900s-1920s whose exquisite work in the "Philadelphia" style allowed PTA's carousel operations to outlive most of its competitors.
Celebrated master carver Marcus Charles Illinois was the next to start his own carousel business, though he'd already been creating figures for over twenty years. Originally from Poland, Illinois had studied under England's Frederick Savage before coming to the U. S. around 1888. From his Brooklyn shop, Illinois did freelance work for such carousel pioneers as Looff and amusement entrepreneur William F. Mangles. The latter partnership resulted in several machines, including the famed rebuilding of Coney Island's landmark Fellowman carousel after it was partially destroyed by fire around the turn of the century. In 1909, M. C. Illinois & Sons Inc. began production at a nearby site, where its owner continually maintained a high standard for his "Coney Island" style creations, with their trademark gold leaf manes and flamboyant poses.
Three years later, in 1912, Solomon Stein and Harry Goldstein opened the Artistic Caroussel Manufacturing Company in Brooklyn. While they took particular pride in their "Coney Island" style carvings, the firm's main source of distinction stemmed from the massive size of both its figures and its entire carousels (machines with up to five, and reportedly six, rows). Moreover, in contrast to the above firms who produced varying numbers of different menagerie figures, the trio stocked their carousels with horses only.
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