July 25 is National Carousel Day. The holiday celebrates the first U.S. patent for a carousel, granted to Willhelm Schneider of Davenport, Iowa, in 1871. Though carousels have been around for centuries, Davenport is considered the inventor of the modern carousel.
Carousel or merry-go-round figures were first carved in the United States in 1867 by Gustav Dentzel. Collectors discovered the charm of the hand-carved figures in the 1970s, and they are now considered folk art. Here are ten things few know about carousels:
1. Americans have spelled the name "carousel" in many ways— carousel, caroussel, carousell.
2. Carousels date back to at least 17th-century Europe.
3. The horses are carved from wood by experienced workmen. No two are exactly alike. It takes from 3 to 5 days to 3 to 5 weeks to carve a carousel horse depending on the carver and the complexity of design.
4. All carousel horses are female.
5. Horses are made with solid wood heads and tails and hollow bodies.
6. All of the carousel horses are moved by a metal ring on the center pole. The platform they stand on is above the floor.
7. The most important horse on most antique carousels is the armour horse.
8. There are about 150 working antique carousels in the United States. The Cleveland Euclid Beach Carousel is the only one we know that is now being restored with the original horses.
9. In Europe merry-go-round figures move in a clockwise direction, while in the U.S.A., they move counter-clockwise. The "outsides" of the figures have the most decoration, so you can tell an American-carved figure from a European-carved figure.
10. One of the world's first solar-powered carousels opened at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington D.C. in 2012. It features 58 hand-carved endangered animal figures and 162 solar panels.
Terry Kovel is spearheading the effort to restore Cleveland's Euclid Beach Grand Carousel. The carousel will be ready to ride in 2014. Learn more about the Cleveland Euclid Beach Park Carousel at ClevelandCarousel.org.