The oldest carousel in the world is appropriately housed in a Greek temple-like building atop a small hill in Hanau, Germany.
The carousel at the Wilhelmsbad Park in Hanau was completed in 1780, at a time when Americans were still fighting the Revolutionary War, and is the oldest known carousel, older than all existing carousels in America by approximately one hundred years.
The carousel was built as a plaything for the hereditary Prince Wilhelm IX of Hessen-Kassel, and was funded in part by supplying Hessian soldiers to England. A Swiss report in 1780 stated "the ladies ride in gilded carriages of the gods, which Juno herself would not have been ashamed to ride, while the men ride on similarly outfitted horses". Famed geologist Karl Caesar von Leonhard, born in 1779 in Hanau, remembers "In the attractions of my boyhood years, above all the carousel belonged as a precious memory, circling on horses of actual size, or in delicate phaetons drawn by black horses. Merry the knight-play, and spearing the rings".
Originally built with two chariots and horses and two individual riding horses, the carousel was rebuilt in 1882 and now has four chariots, each with two horses, and two pair of spring mounted riding horses. Two of the horses, much larger than usual, are on display until they can be placed back on the carousel. The local legend is that after this 1882 restoration the carousel, which was originally man-powered, was driven by a horse and a blind mule, circling under the carousel platform.
The carousel and building were designed by architect and engineer Franz Ludwig Cancrin, who brought his experience as a mining engineer to the project. The mechanism is ingenious, hidden in an artificial hill under the carousel itself, and is similar to a mill with large mill spokes radiating outward to turn the horses and chariots "like an oversized umbrella". The building floor (above the mill) is made up of three parts, an outside walkway connected to the 12 outside columns and pillars and a stationary inner platform (the size and shape of a normal carousel platform) with a narrow 14 centimeter circle between these stationary elements which is the only part that moves. The horses and chariots are mounted on this narrow band. The inner platform hangs from the roof, with no connection to any ground level structure.
Unfortunately, over two hundred plus years, the roof and platform have settled a bit so that the platform grinds against the ring, which can no longer move. The carousel last operated in 1932.
State engineers examined the problem and developed a plan to raise the roof sufficient to allow the wheels to turn. A Friends group was formed to raise the approximately one and a half million Euro (almost two million dollars) it would need. The fund raising effort is well underway with many fund raising activities and strong support from the local community as well as commitments of matching funds from Hanau City and the State of Hess.
Despite this daunting task, they confidently expect to have the carousel restored and operating by the end of 2008. Members of the 2006 carousel tour to Germany were privileged to be allowed into the room under the carousel to inspect the mechanism. We were also shown models and designs of the mechanism and an award winning computer animated film of the carousel.
The National Carousel Association is proud to support the restoration of this historic carousel.
Note: Additional information on this carousel is available online in German Here. The Google translation to English of the same Web site is available Here.
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