American carousels actually had their origin in 500 AD, inspired by Arabian culture. Spanish crusaders discovered contests on horseback with the goal to capture clay balls filled with perfume. The contests were called "carosella" or little wars. "Carousel" in French refers to sixteenth-century royal pageantry of "entertainment by knights." In this game, knights on highly decorated horses would try to spear gold rings. They would practice this undertaking by riding wooden horses suspended on beams supported by a center pole. The mechanism rotated often using one of two different sources of power, either humans or horses.
It is believed that European wood carvers crafted similar devices for amusement and profit by the late 1700s. Americans discovered the carousel in the late 1800s due to the success of these type of rides at resorts like Coney Island, New York.
From 1867 to 1928, thousands of wooden carousels were carved by hand. Horses and other animals, referred to as menagerie, waited patiently for children of all ages to climb aboard for an exciting spin. The period of 1885 to 1925 was the most prolific for the manufacture of carousels. Prior to the start of the golden age of the carousel Gustav Dentzel immigrated to Pennsylvania from Germany in 1860 and began the G.A. Dentzel Steam and Horsepower Carrousel Builder Shop just seven years later. Responsible for several innovations to the carousel, Dentzel experimented with double-decker carousels, band organ music, and the use of steam to power the machines. Dentzel's tools and several unfinished pieces from the shop are on permanent exhibit at the Merry-Go-Round Museum.
As the United States was dealing with the effects of the Great Depression and two World Wars, the laborers and materials used in the manufacture of carousels were diverted to other purposes. And later in the 1950s amusement parks fighting to stay open wanted bigger and faster thrill rides.