The carousel is a part of almost every persons childhood. We can all recall taking our first carousel ride...gliding up and down and around as music played and twinkling lights sparkled in the foreground, the colorful animals prancing in unison.

If it weren’t for the inspiration that struck Allan Herschell in the late 1800s during a trip to Cornell, it is likely that this childhood relic may not have ever been invented.

Herschell created the first carousel in 1873 starting with steam engines and hand-carved horses made from wood. He originally named this ride the riding gallery as artwork was painted in the middle to hide the machinery. This was as close to an art gallery as many of his patrons would get. In particular, Herschell specialized in making machines that were portable and could be transported by carnival operators. Today, less than 150 hand-carved wooden carousels remain; however, approximately half of those were produced by Herschell. Herschell greatly influenced the amusement ride industry in America.

The Allan Herschell Company, the most prolific maker of carousels, specialized in producing portable machines which could be used by traveling carnival operators. The company produced over 3,000 hand carved wooden carousels and outproduced all of its rivals in the carousel industry. Each hand-carved wooden carousel featured striking yet simple horses.
Of the 148 antique, hand-carved wooden carousels still in existence in the United States and Canada today, 71 were manufactured in North Tonawanda in one of the four Herschell companies. 

 

Herschell was known for his simple style. His carousel featured three different hand-carved horses; the stargazer with a look up, a horse with a straight look, and one with a tucked-under look. His typical carousel consisted of 36 animals but was also sold in two other sizes. The smallest size featured 24 animals and the largest size featured 72 animals.

In the 1940s, Herschell would be forced to begin working with metal as wood carvers began to die out. He used cast aluminum to create carousels featuring half metal and half wood. In 1972, Herschell would be bought by The Chance Rides of Kansas.

Today, a visit to the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum provides guests with access to two vintage, working carrousels. The 1916 carrousel features wood-carved horses while the kiddie carousel dates back to the 1940s and features aluminum. Paid admission to the museum includes one free ride on either carrousel and additional ride tokens can be purchased for 50 cents.

The Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum welcomes the young at heart! Visitors can ride the museum’s 102-year-old carrousel.

Also onsite is the Artizan Style D Band Organ. This particular style boasts its original roll-playing mechanism; it still plays music it was originally built to play. When Herschell began making carrousels he hired a German band organ maker to come work for him. This massive instrumental machine is truly a work of art and an absolute delight to witness in action.

Kids will enjoy the outdoor Kiddieland Testing Park Exhibit consisting of four refurbished rides from the postwar era. Children will be mesmerized by floating boats, flying helicopters, miniature cars and a horse and pony cart.

Step inside and you’ll be given a glimpse into the creation of carrousel music. The museum features more than 1,500 original music rolls that are more than 100 years old.The exhibit is the only one of its kind and music rolls are even available for purchase.

For more information, visit carrouselmuseum.org.

Cynthia Calvert
Author: Cynthia CalvertEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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A trained journalist with a masters degree from Lamar University, a masters from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, as well as extensive coursework toward a masters of science in psychology from the University of New Orleans, Calvert founded the Tribune Newspapers in 2007. Her experiences as an investigative, award winning reporter (She won Journalist of the Year from the Houston Press Club among many other awards for reporting and writing), professor and chair of the journalism department for Lone Star College-Kingwood and vice president of editorial for a large group of community weeklies provides her with a triple dose of bankable skills that cover every aspect of the journalism field. Solid reporting. Careful interviews. Respect and curiosity for people and places.