"And the painted ponies go up and down" - A very short history of the carousel

17 May 1620, the first carousel for children was operated in the Bulgarian town of Plovdiv.
“And the seasons they go'round and'round / And the painted ponies go up and down / We're captive on the carousel of time / We can't return we can only look behind / From where we came / And go round and round and round / In the circle game” (Joni Mitchell)

A 1900s postcard depicting the oldest surviving carousel in the spa park of Wilhelmsbad, Germany*

the English traveller Peter Munday saw the curious contraption he described as a large cartwheel with eight little chairs on the outside where children took place and were taken for a man-powered merry-go-round, the idea of a carousel, a “little battle”, more or less a form of cavalry training, was still practised all over Europe and the Near East. Basically, horsemen-in-training sat on wooden horses and were pulled around in circles while they practised with sword and lance. 40 years after Munday’s discovery, the French Sun King Louis XIV staged a grandiose “carrouse”, a grandiose parade with 500 equestrians in splendid costumes led by himself dressed up as a Roman emperor, riding around in circles on the Place du Carrousel in Paris and a couple of years later, Louis’ pageants had evolved into games of skill for the well-heeled and the concept of the carousel as we know it began to assert itself.

Joris van Bredael (1661-1706): "A sledge carousel in the courtyard of the Hofburg, Vienna, in the reign of Leopold I" (c 1700)

During the 18th and early 19th century large “horse ballets” with lovingly detailed horses and coaches began not only to appear in the amusement parks of the aristos but on travelling fairs and fairgrounds as well and while the grown ups still tried to catch rings with lances during the merry-go-round, carousels became more and more an attraction for the whole family. By the 1850s, the early swing carousels were displaced by platform-mounted devices, the dobbies, still operated manually by the fairground people or drawn by ponies until in 1861 the first steam-powered carousel was set up in Aylsham Fair in Norfolk and a contemporary observer mentioned the thing as a “a roundabout of huge proportions, driven by a steam engine which whirled around with such impetuousity, that the wonder is the daring riders are not shot off like cannon- ball, and driven half into the middle of next month“.

Lovis Corinth (1858 - 1925): "Karussell" (Carousel, 1903)

* Roundabouts were given the look and features we associate today with the word “nostalgic” at the beginning of the 20th century with electric motors and electric lights together with large fairground organs from the Golden Age of carousels and fair grounds that lasted until the 1930s. Depicted above is a 1900 postcard showing the oldest still existing carousel from 1780 at the spa park in Wilhelmsbad near Frankfurt in Germany. Originally a swing carousel, it was converted into a platform roundabout in 1830, equipped with a petrol engine in 1898 and used until the late 1920s. Under monumental protection since its last makeover in the 1970s after the damages from World War II were finally repaired, it is currently having a complete overhaul and will be reopened in 2015.

The picture was found on http://www.parkscout.de/magazin/das-aelteste-karussell-der-welt/bald-wieder-in-betrieb

And more about carousels on