Arabian and Turkish horsemen played a game on horseback in which they would toss balls to one another in passing while expected to drop none. The nature of the game was so competitive that to spectators such as the Spanish and Italian Crusaders it became described as garosello and carosella ("little war"). As the game spread around Europe, when it reached France is became known as carrousel. This became a lavish event in which riders would take part in a competition where they would spear rings tied with brightly colored ribbons hanging from trees or poles.
It is believed that the first carousel in the form that we know was built to help young riders practice for the ring-spearing tournaments. Wooden structures were attached by chains to beams with a center pole while the riders would attempt to spear a ring in passing. By the late 1700's these structures were being used for entertainment purposes often with real animals walking in a circle while attached to a central force powered by man or another animal.
As the carousel evolved platforms, fixtures, and steam power became essentials. This allowed for an increase in size and weight without being reliable on manpower. A notable contributor to these changes was agricultural machinery designer, Frederick Savage. 1880-1930 was known as the golden age for carousels as size and style continued to diversify. Over time the carving styles of different artists from Gustav Dentzel's realistic designs to Charles I.D. Looff's imaginative and elaborate carvings became wildly popular.
The great depression brought on the decline of carousels along with most forms of entertainment. Most were abandoned and destroyed during this time.
The carousel made its comeback as a children's ride as larger rides were created for diverse demographics over time. The new age of carousels are created with the use of casts, industrial materials, and technology.
Of the more than 4,000 carousels built in America during the "golden age", fewer than 150 exist intact today.