Monday May 17, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The Carousel

On this Day:

In 1620, the 1st Merry-go-round, otherwise known as a Carousel, is seen and recorded at a fair in Philippapolis, Turkey.

On May 17, in 1620 the journal of Peter Munday, passing through modern-day Bulgaria, described a curiosity he happened upon: a large wheel with seats fastened to it on the outside, in which children are placed. The wheel then begins turning, with the children circling around.

They may seem like harmless rides now, but the next time you see a child riding a unicorn on a merry go-round, consider they are participating in what began as an old-world military exercise. Horsemen in Turkey and Arabia in the twelfth century tossed around makeshift water balloons with perfumed water to each other, with the one that failed to catch having to de-perfume himself afterward — the game was called garosello in Spanish, meaning “little war.” Only later did it evolve into a more festive occasion, the kind described by a British traveler through the Ottoman Empir

Predictably, it was the French court that added pageantry to an otherwise pretty dull affair. A common game played by French horsemen had them attempting to snag a small ring with their lance while galloping at full speed. The snagged ring would pull away a stream of ribbons behind it. For those who wished to practice with something easier, a circular wooden platform was created to spin riders on wooden beams as they would try to snag the rings hung outside of the wheel (from

By the 17th century, 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.

By 1803 John Joseph Merlin had a carousel in his Mechanical Museum in London, where gentry and nobility liked to gather on winter evenings. The horses “floated free over a pole”. It was connected to a “big musical instrument that played a fully orchestrated concerto” and from the first note, the carousel would start turning while each horse would make a galloping movement with a visitor riding on its back. Merlin did not patent his inventions and engineers were allowed to come to create their own models of his creations.

Viewed from above, in the United Kingdom, merry-go-rounds, called ‘gallopers’ by the showmen community when populated by model horses, usually turn clockwise (from the outside, animals face to the left), while in North America and Mainland Europe, carousels typically go counterclockwise (animals face to the right).

By the mid-19th century the platform carousel was developed; the animals and chariots were fixed to a circular floor that would suspend from a centre pole and rotate around. These carousels were called dobbies and were operated manually by the operator or by ponies.

In mid-19th-century England, the carousel became a popular fixture at fairs. The first steam-powered mechanical roundabout, invented by Thomas Bradshaw, appeared at the Aylsham Fair in about 1861. It was described by a Halifax Courier journalist as “a roundabout of huge proportions, driven by a steam engine which whirled around with such impetuosity, that the wonder is the daring riders are not shot off like cannon- ball, and driven half into the middle of next month.”

Soon afterwards, English engineer Frederick Savage began to branch out of agricultural machinery production into the construction of fairground machines, swiftly becoming the chief innovator in the field. Savage’s fairground machinery was exported all over the world. By 1870, he was manufacturing carousels with Velocipedes (an early type of bicycle) and he soon began experimenting with other possibilities, including a roundabout with boats that would pitch and roll on cranks with a circular motion, a ride he called ‘Sea-on-Land’.

Savage applied a similar innovation to the more traditional mount of the horse; he installed gears and offset cranks on the platform carousels, thus giving the animals their well-known up-and-down motion as they travelled around the center pole – the galloping horse. The platform served as a position guide for the bottom of the pole and as a place for people to walk or other stationary animals or chariots to be placed. He called this ride the ‘Platform Gallopers’ . He also developed the ‘platform-slide’ which allowed the mounts to swing out concentrically as the carousel built up speed. Fairground organs (band organs) were often present (if not built in) when these machines operated. Eventually electric motors were installed and electric lights added, giving the carousel its classic look.

These mechanical innovations came at a crucial time, when increased prosperity meant that more people had time for leisure and spare money to spend on entertainment. It was in this historical context that the modern fairground ride was born, with Savage supplying this new market demand. In his 1902 Catalogue for Roundabouts he claimed to have “… patented and placed upon the market all the principal novelties that have delighted the many thousands of pleasure seekers at home and abroad.”

In the United States, the carousel industry was developed by immigrants, notably Gustav Dentzel of Germany and Charles W.F. Dare from England, from the late 19th century. Several centers and styles for the construction of carousels emerged in the United States: Coney Island style – characterized by elaborate, and sometimes faux-jeweled, saddles – with Charles I. D. Looff; Philadelphia style – known for more realistically painted saddles – with Dentzel and the Philadelphia Toboggan Company; and Country Fair style – often with no saddles at all – with Allan Herschell and Edward Spillman of western New York, and Charles W. Parker of Kansas. The golden age of the carousel in America was the early 20th century, with large machines and elaborate animals, chariots, and decorations being built (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

If I have a problem, I like to go and think about it on the local carousel.  It usually helps, but at times I feel like I’m just going around in circles…

Second, a Song:

John Philip Sousa (November 6, 1854 – March 6, 1932) was an American composer and conductor of the late Romantic era known primarily for American military marches. He is known as “The March King” or the “American March King”, to distinguish him from his British counterpart Kenneth J. Alford. Among his best-known marches are “The Stars and Stripes Forever” (National March of the United States of America), “Semper Fidelis” (official march of the United States Marine Corps), “The Liberty Bell”, “The Thunderer”, and “The Washington Post”.

Sousa began his career playing violin and studying music theory and composition under John Esputa and George Felix Benkert. His father enlisted him in the United States Marine Band as an apprentice in 1868. He left the band in 1875, and over the next five years he performed as a violinist and learned to conduct. In 1880 he rejoined the Marine Band, and he served there for 12 years as director, after which he organized his own band. From 1880 until his death, he focused exclusively on conducting and writing music. Sousa aided in the development of the sousaphone, a large brass instrument similar to the helicon and tuba.

Upon the outbreak of World War I, Sousa was awarded a wartime commission of lieutenant commander to lead the Naval Reserve Band in Illinois. He then returned to conduct the Sousa Band until his death in 1932. In the 1920s, he was promoted to the permanent rank of lieutenant commander in the naval reserve, but he never saw active service again.

King Cotton is a military march composed in 1895 by John Philip Sousa, for the Cotton States and International Exposition (1895).

The expression “King Cotton” in general refers to the historically high importance of cotton as a cash crop in the southern United States.

The tune is often included in compilations of Sousa’s works. It was also included in the musical soundtrack (though not the soundtrack album) as carousel music in the 1973 film, The Sting.

The tune is also featured in the film The Adventures of Milo and Otis as background music. It is also featured in “Emanuelle Goes to Dinosaur Land”, an episode of the American television show 30 Rock. In “Superman III”, the tune is played as Superman is welcomed by the town of Smallville.

The Maine Stein Song is the school song of the University of Maine. Its lyrics were written by UMaine student Lincoln Colcord in 1902 and its tune was based on Opie, a march written by E. A. Fenstad. It was popularized in 1930 by Rudy Vallée and became the only college song to become a number one hit.

Here is a video clip of a brightly illuminated carousel ride in England, set to “King Cotton March” by John Philip Sousa followed by the “Maine Stein Song”.  I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“The way I see it, love is an amusement park, and food its souvenir.” – Stephanie Klein

On Saturday May 15th, we lost a good friend, lawyer, business associate, golfer, softball player and all together great guy. Above all, Gene Macchi loved nothing more than being on his boat, holding his rod high with a trout on the other end of his fly line with the world’s biggest smile on his face. Gene and I (two lawyers) and a psychologist (Toby Snelgrove) shared office space for years.  We called ourselves “Shyster, Shyster & Shrink”.  It was the most fun I ever had practising law or being in business.  Gene was a confirmed bachelor sharing a house with Keith Kawamoto, also a confirmed bachelor.  The Odd Couple, we joked. Or so we thought. Well…Keith met Sue at softball practice and she must have thrown a great curve ball as another bachelor soon slid to home base. That left Gene as the last man standing. We often joked that Gene’s Want Ad for a lady would be “Wanted – woman who can cook, clean fish and has boat and motor.  p.s. Send picture of boat and motor”.  Darned if he didn’t find Marie, or perhaps Marie found Gene, who as it turns out, was more of an outdoorsy sort than Gene. A match made in heaven. Ah well, bachelorhood is overrated anyway. There are lots of stories about Gene, perhaps my favourite was playing golf with him, Keith and Keith’s dad, Mr. K as we called him.  Gene stepped up to the TeeOff area on a par 3 with a humongous water hazard between him and the green. He hit a ball that ‘skipped’ over the water and landed on the green on the other side.  Amazing. We laughed and laughed. And that is how I want to remember Gene – the guy with the amazing sense of humour and sparkle in his eye who laughed at everything, who went out of his way to help everyone and who was just the best guy to be around. I would like to think that he is sitting in a boat somewhere, a trout on the end of his line, saying “Got Another One!”  and smiling. Our condolences to his friends and family. There was only one Gene Macchi and he will be sorely missed.

Further to the Kingsford Charcoal Briquette Smile, the Rev. Bob Beasley of Pain-Court, Ontario, Canada writes:

“Hi Dave,

Thanks for this fascinating history of the role Henry Ford played in creating the modern camping and barbecuing culture. We live in SW Ontario, 45 minutes from downtown Detroit. We have been annual members (and will be again once the border reopens) of The Henry Ford in Dearborn Michigan, which includes a world-class museum and Greenfield Village. Wikipedia describes it this way “The Henry Ford (also known as the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village, and as the Edison Institute) is a large indoor and outdoor history museum complex and a National Historic Landmark in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, Michigan, United States. The museum collection contains the presidential limousine of John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln’s chair from Ford’s Theatre, Thomas Edison’s laboratory, the Wright Brothers’ bicycle shop, the Rosa Parks bus, and many other historical exhibits. It is the largest indoor–outdoor museum complex in the United States and is visited by over 1.7 million people each year. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969 as Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1981 as “Edison Institute””. The Henry Ford is an impressive institution, and well worth at least a two-day visit for anyone who is interested in American history. You could spend far more time there than this, but two days is a minimum to take in both the museum and Greenfield Village.

Included among the impressive collections in the museum is a display called “Camping with Henry Ford and the Vagabonds.” According to The Henry Ford Website, “Between 1915 and 1924, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, tire magnate Harvey Firestone and naturalist John Burroughs (who took part 1916-1920), calling themselves “the Four Vagabonds,” embarked on a series of summer camping trips. Others joined the group at various times, among them family, business associates and politicians, including U.S. presidents.” These would be the group of friends that you, Dave, mention in your history of the charcoal briquettes.

If any of your readers are interested in more information about this, they can find it, along with links to photos and videos, here:




Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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