This was an industry and carnival operators and amusement parks were the customers. Often called "trolly parks", most early amusement parks were built by the local street car companies looking for evening and weekend traffic.
GUSTAV DENTZEL was a cabinetmaker when he came to America from Germany at the age of 20. He had, however, been bitten by the carousel bug as a boy while watching his father carve them in the old country. In 1867, he changed his cabinetmaker sign to read "Steam and Horsepower Carousel Builder." Dentzel's animals are carved more anatomically correct than the work of most other carvers. They have been described as graceful, confident, dignified, even regal, but there is an underlying gentleness about them. Dentzel's trappings were simple in the beginning but grew more complex, especially after his son, William, took over production in 1909. The Dentzel firm employed other carvers who became famous in their own right.
CHARLES I.D. LOOFF came to this country from what is now the north of West Germany. In the beginning, he built furniture by day and spent his nights carving carousels. His first was erected at Coney Island, New York, in 1876. If a man can be judged by his art, Looff was a gentle man. There is nothing threatening about his animals... even his lion seems to smile a welcome to its rider. Looff's work greatly influenced other carvers in the industry and, though he changed his style to keep up with the times, his early works are acknowledged classics. Looff also designed many of the buildings which housed his carousels, creating a total environment which can only be called magical.
SOL STEIN and HARRY GOLDSTEIN began their carving careers making wooden combs... the kind used by fashionable ladies to hold up and decorate the fancy hair styles popular at the turn of the century. In 1912, after carving horses for existing carousel companies, they established their own firm which they called the "Artistic Carrousel Manufacturers. "Their carousels were among the biggest ever built and featured large, angry, snarling horses. These horses appear to object to your presence and strain to be free of the carousel...free perhaps to run off to the nearest castle. Despite the forcefulness of these steeds, they are often festooned with flowers and other delicate decoration...the kind a lady might give to her knight before he went off to slay a dragon or do battle in her honor.
The PHILADELPHIA TOBOGGAN COMPANY, a firm established in 1903 by Henry Auchy and Chester Albright, produced extravagant carousels full of magnificent animals and some of the most beautiful chariots ever carved. The company turned out carousels until 1934 and is noted for the quality of the carvers it employed. One of the most important of these carvers was John Zalar who is famous for his incredible work. Daniel Muller, another master carver, worked for them also after leaving the Dentzel firm. The Philadelphia Toboggan Company still exists today as the Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters, manufacturing roller coasters and related rides.
CHARLES CARMEL carved animals in a shop located not far from Coney Island and sold them to manufacturers of carousels. His horses are noted for their strong bodies and legs. At first glance they suggest great power...an aggressive quality; but when you study their eyes, the power and aggression is mellowed by the gentleness found there. Carmel was generous with his trappings. An abundance of jewels, buckles, feathers, flowers, tassels, straps, and fringe offer a base for lavish use of the bright colors we all associate with carousels.
DANIEL C. MULLER and his family arrived in America from Germany in 1881. His father was an intimate friend of Gustav Dentzel, which perhaps is why Daniel and his brother were employed after school hours by Dentzel in the 1890's. Although a sculptor in his own right, Daniel began the D. C. Muller and Bro. Company in 1903 and after creating many magnificent carousels, closed its doors fourteen years later when materials became scarce due to the war being declared on Germany. They then went back to work for William H. Dentzel, Gustav's son. While most carvers adorned the animals with "fantasy" Muller insisted on some sort of realistic, functional tack and is best known for his military saddle and headstalls. He would often times throw in his share of fantasy too, however. An example is in Number 32 where he uses the military saddle and blanket with bedroll but allows fantasy to further enhance his steed with a garland of flowers and ribbons as a breast-piece.
MARCUS CHARLES ILLIONS arrived in America in 1888 at the age of 17. Although born in Russia, his carving skills were polished in Germany and England. Illions worked with Looff in the beginning, but some time around the turn of the century he began a collaboration with a carousel builder named W. F. Mangels. Together, these two created marvelous carousels.. .full of fantasy and imagination. In about 1908, Illions established his own firm, calling it the "M. C. Illions and Sons Carousell Works." The firm was successful until the depression.
ALLAN HERSCHELL and EDWARD SPILLMAN established their company in 1903 on a foundation of another firm Herschell had been involved in...the Armitage Herschell Company, which had produced carousels since 1883. Inexpensive steam powered carousels were the new company's product. The style of their carving was simple, smooth and uncomplicated when compared to the work of most other carvers. In about 1914, however, their horses began to be less stylized and their trappings became more decorative. About this same time, Herschell-Spillman carousels began to feature a fabulous array of menagerie animals (animals other than horses).
CHARLES WALLACE PARKER, the "Amusement King", was born in Illinois in 1864. He established his amusement business in Kansas. The horses on his carousels are completely unique. You may not be able to tell the difference between a Looff and a Carmel, but you can hardly mistake a Parker. They are fantasy creatures which look as though they came right out of a child's dream. One can feel free to color them any color. A pink, purple, blue or bright red Looff might look strange but any of these colors seem perfect for a Parker horse. It is fun to know that President Eisenhower worked as a horse sander in Parker's company as a boy.
Parker specialized in portable carousels
that would be moved with a carnival show. The horses are long
and slender, big enough for adult riders, but small enough to
be easily carried from the carousel to the waiting wagon. The
largest Parker horses are often smaller than the smallest horses
on other carousels. The largest surviving Parker carousel operates
at Jantzen Beach Center in Portland, Oregon. A very large machine
with 72 fairly small horses.