Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Round And Round We Go — By Suzanne Norquist

With summer in full swing, our minds turn to carnivals, fairs, and amusement parks. Who doesn’t want to take a turn on the carousel or the Ferris wheel?

Carousels didn’t start as a leisure activity but as a military training tool. The concept goes back to the sixth century Byzantium Empire but was popularized in the twelfth century for young soldiers.

There was no platform under riders’ feet as we have today. Baskets (representing horses) hung from poles that extended from a rotating center—probably like the flying chairs at modern carnivals. Riders would toss perfume-filled balls back and forth. If the ball broke, the perfume would cover the soldier, and the smell would embarrass him all day.

By the seventeenth century, the game had turned to jousting. Riders would collect small rings with their lances. Around this time, carousels started appearing at fairs and special events. Wooden horses replaced the baskets.

The floor was added in the mid-nineteenth century, making the ride accessible to the less adventurous. Carousels began to resemble the ones we see today.

People or animals provided power for the machines until 1861. That is when Thomas Bradshaw built the first steam-powered mechanical roundabout. It was larger and faster than those that had gone before. A journalist made the observation: “. . .the wonder is the daring riders are not shot off like cannonballs, and driven half into the middle of next month.”

By 1870, Frederick Savage, an agricultural machinery producer, decided to build fairground machines instead of farm equipment. He added different kinds of movement, such as pitching and rolling for boats.

Like carousels, Ferris wheels, sometimes called “pleasure wheels,” were reported in the sixteen and seventeen hundreds. However, they were less common.

William Somers built three fifty-foot-high wheels in 1891 in New York and New Jersey. He received a patent for the steam-powered wooden machine in 1893. Although he thought people would find them slow and boring, those who had never been up in a skyscraper were amazed at the view from the top.

George Ferris, a 33-year-old bridge engineer from Pittsburg, designed and built the first actual Ferris wheel. He raised money for construction and contributed some of his own funds.

It was constructed in Chicago in 1893 as part of the World’s Columbian Exposition. This monstrosity was made of steel and stood 264 feet (about twenty-six stories) tall. It was intended to rival the Eiffel Tower of the 1889 Paris Exposition. Although not as tall, it was a mechanical wonder. Over two thousand people could ride at one time, and two revolutions took twenty minutes.

The attraction opened to much fanfare and operated flawlessly throughout the exposition. An amazing feat.

Afterward, operating without the regular stream of visitors was too expensive. And neighbors complained about the noisy steam engine. It was relocated a couple of times before being dismantled for scrap.

Ferris faced several lawsuits. Somers sued him for patent infringement and won the first round of litigation. Ferris won on appeal. Apparently, the steel structure was significantly different from the smaller wooden one.

Ferris’s investors also sued, as did the exposition, causing him to file for bankruptcy. However, his legacy lives on because who hasn’t heard of the Ferris wheel?

Over time, both Ferris wheels and carousels evolved, using lighter materials and more efficient power sources. But they have continued to thrill riders, young and old alike.

So, next time you enjoy a Ferris wheel or a carousel, remember all the creativity that brought these inventions to life.


”Mending Sarah’s Heart” in the Thimbles and Threads Collection

Four historical romances celebrating the arts of sewing and quilting.

Mending Sarah’s Heart by Suzanne Norquist

Rockledge, Colorado, 1884

Sarah seeks a quiet life as a seamstress. She doesn’t need anyone, especially her dead husband’s partner. If only the Emporium of Fashion would stop stealing her customers, and the local hoodlums would leave her sons alone. When she rejects her husband’s share of the mine, his partner Jack seeks to serve her through other means. But will his efforts only push her further away?

Suzanne Norquist is the author of two novellas, “A Song for Rose” in A Bouquet of Brides Collection and “Mending Sarah’s Heart” in the Thimbles and Threads Collection. Everything fascinates her. She has worked as a chemist, professor, financial analyst, and even earned a doctorate in economics. Research feeds her curiosity, and she shares the adventure with her readers. She lives in New Mexico with her mining engineer husband and has two grown children. When not writing, she explores the mountains, hikes, and attends kickboxing class.



  1. I'm terrified of heights so not my things. But it is fun watching the kids and adults screaming with pleasure. I just never have seen the pleasure in it. Now the water rides I'm fine with.

    1. I used to enjoy the heights, but don't anymore. But seeing a Ferris wheel always reminds me of fun. Water rides are great on hot days.

  2. Thank you for posting today, and for the fun and interesting topic. I found it interesting that a carousel would provide actual training for the military.