Photo of carousel woman at the Westfield Shopping Center of Citrus Park, Florida.
A carousel (from French carrousel, from Italian carosello), or merry-go-round, is an amusement ride consisting of a rotating circular platform with seats for riders. The “seats” are traditionally in the form of rows of wooden horses or other animals mounted on posts, many of which are moved up and down by gearwork to simulate galloping, to the accompaniment of looped circus music. This leads to one of the alternative names, the galloper. Other popular names are jumper, roundabout, horseabout and flying horses.
Carousels are commonly populated with horses, each horse weighing roughly 100 lbs (45 kg), but may include diverse varieties of mounts, like pigs, zebras, tigers, or mythological creatures such as dragons or unicorns. Sometimes, chairlike or benchlike seats are used as well, and occasionally mounts can be shaped like airplanes or cars.
Any rotating platform may also be called a carousel. In a playground, a roundabout or merry-go-round is usually a simple, child-powered rotating platform with bars or handles to which children can cling while riding. At an airport, rotating conveyors in the baggage claim area are often called carousels. Various photographic slide projectors, notably those made by Kodak until 2004, used rotating trays or magazines called carousels to hold the slides and were often known as “carousel projectors”.
The modern carousel emerged from early jousting traditions in Europe and the Middle East. Knights would gallop in a circle while tossing balls from one to another; an activity that required great skill and horsemanship. This game was introduced to Europe at the time of the Crusades from earlier Byzantine and Arab traditions. The word carousel originated from the Italian garosello and Spanish carosella (“little battle”, used by crusaders to describe a combat preparation exercise and game played by Turkish and Arabian horsemen in the 12th century). This early device was essentially a cavalry training mechanism; it prepared and strengthened the riders for actual combat as they wielded their swords at the mock enemies.
By the 17th century, the balls had been dispensed with, and instead the riders had to spear small rings that were hanging from poles overhead and rip them off. Cavalry spectacles that replaced medieval jousting, such as the ring-tilt, were popular in Italy and France. The game began to be played by commoners, and carousels soon sprung up at fairgrounds across Europe. At the Place du Carrousel in Paris, an early make believe carousel was set up with wooden horses for the children.
By the early 18th century carousels were being built and operated at various fairs and gatherings in central Europe and England. Animals and mechanisms would be crafted during the winter months and the family and workers would go touring in their wagon train through the region, operating their large menagerie carousel at various venues. Makers included Heyn in Germany and Bayol in France. These early carousels had no platforms; the animals would hang from chains and fly out from the centrifugal force of the spinning mechanism. They were often powered by animals walking in a circle or people pulling a rope or cranking.