On July 25th we celebrate National Merry-Go-Round Day. This is an unofficial holiday–but it is fun to ride on merry-go-rounds, so let’s celebrate. The merry-go-round (or carousel) has an interesting history. In the 1100s during the Crusades, European soldiers watched the Turkish and Arabian horsemen compete in a game. The game, similar to jousting, was taken very seriously by its participants. The European onlookers began to refer to the game as “little war,” which is translated to “garosello” in Italian and “carosella.” This is how the word carousel is derived.
During Medieval times, carousels were used as a training device for knights in battle. In the 1600s, a Frenchmen designed a device for training purposes for young competitors for participation in the carousel. The device was a carved horse that was suspended by chains from two arms that were attached to a central pole. The competitors trained while the horse moved up and down to simulate actually riding a horse.
In the 1800s, European immigrants brought the artistry of the carousel with them to America. The first patented carousel, which was called the “flying horses,” was given in Brooklyn; however, there is evidence of merry-g0-rounds being present in the U.S. five years earlier in Manhattan.
Later in the 19th century, merry-go-rounds were powered by steam and built on wooden platforms. By the end of the 19th century, carousels were converted to electric power–and during this time, fair grounds were popular. However, during WWII, the carousel fell out of popularity due to the lack of labor and supplies to make them. Merry-go-rounds or carousels did make a comeback, but they were never as popular as they were prior. But merry-go-rounds will live forever, or at least as long as there are children.