George F. Johnson, a wealthy shoemaker from Binghamton, New York, believed in the importance of recreation. So much so that between 1919 and 1934 he donated six ornate wooden carousels to the area’s community parks, on the condition visitors never be charged for the magic rides on these merry-go-rounds—something that still holds true.
Johnson lived during the golden age of the carousel, when manufacturers like Gustav Dentzel and Charles Looff built elaborate rides for parks all across the country. Johnson’s carousels were all manufactured by the Allan Herschell Company of North Tonawanda, New York, in the “country fair” style of the day. The largest of these is the one located in the Fred C. Johnson Park, and contains 72 intricately detailed figures and panels. In addition to the traditional horses, you could also hop on a dog, a pig, at the Highland Park carousel, and a monkey chariot at Ross Park.
The carousel industry was hit hard by the Great Depression and never fully recovered from it. The rollercoaster was becoming more popular and the the tamer carousel was tagged as a ride for young children. The ones built later were not usually hand-carved, and were generally made of aluminum or fiberglass. Antique hand-carved carousels are a rarity today, and Binghamton is home to six of the 150 vintage pieces remaining in the United States and Canada, a throwback to a different era that’s earned it the nickname of the Carousel Capital Of the World.