Facts and History of American and European Carousels
car·ou·sel (plural car·ou·sels)noun
"def: amusement park ride: an amusement park or fairground ride with a rotating circular platform fitted with seats that are usually shaped like animals such as horses and move up and down to music. "
Carousels are not considered "thrill machines" by any stretch of the imagination. Still, carousels are as reliant on the laws of motion as their more exciting cousins, the roller coasters. It's theoretically possible that, allowed to spin out of control, a carousel could gain enough speed so that the riders would be thrown off. Thankfully, runaway carousels are not the least bit common.
Are some horses moving faster than others?
With all of its beauty and seeming simplicity, the carousel is a delicate balance of motion and forces. All of the horses move through one complete circle in the same amount of time. The horses on the outside of the carousel have to cover more distance than the inside horses in this of time. This means the horses on the outside have a faster linear speed than those at the hub.
What if they're galloping?
On some carousels, the horses go up and down in a galloping motion simulating what it might be like to ride a real horse. For these carousels, the ride designer had to approach the problem of movement around the central axis differently. In a normal carousel, each horse maintains a constant acceleration, radius, and tangential speed (speed tangent to the circular path of the carousel). If you add a gallop to some of the horses, you must consider the forces needed to change that horse's position upward or downward as it goes around the track. In designing with these forces in mind, you also need to take into account the mass of the horse and its rider.
The carousel originated in Europe, but reached its greatest fame in America in the 1900's. The first carousels featured gondolas, carts, menagerie animals, and horses. The French developed many variations of the carousel. In one variation, the riders tried to spear gold rings with lances while the carousel rotated at full speed. This undoubtedly led to the phrase, "catching the brass ring" on later carousels.
In the mid 16th century, grand tournaments were held in France. Saddle makers, tailors, jewelers, and wig makers created extravagant costumes for both horse and rider for these occasions. Inspiration for later carousel carvers apparently originated from these events.
During the late 1900's, many skilled European carvers immigrated to the United States to produce carousels. The carvings of these immigrants were a great improvement over the first efforts of unskilled carvers. Usually the side of the carousel horse facing the audience, the "Romance" side, was adorned with carved decorations, while the inner side received little attention.
The golden age of carousels only lasted 25 years, but still brings back wonderful childhood memories today. Even though 7,000 carousels were created years ago, only 300 remain in existence today.