Dentzel Carousel Family History
The Dentzel Carousel Company expresses itself today
through 5th generation carouselmaker William H. Dentzel, headquartered
in Port Townsend, WA. The tradition began in early 1800's southern
Germany. Dentzel carousels became larger over time; mid-19th century
second-generation Dentzel carouselmakers sailed cross the Atlantic with
a carousel to test the American market. Carousels became larger, more
elaborate, and widespread during the turn-of-the-century era. Third
generation Dentzel carouselmakers saw the collapse of the industry
during the great depression at which time more practical home building
became the family trade. Fourth generation carouselmaker, William H.
Dentzel 2, revived the family business in the 1960's and made small
children's carousels. Fifth generation carouselmaker, William H.
Dentzel 3, continues making 20' diameter, 15 rider traditional
wooden "flying horses" carousels for communities, they carry children
as well as adults. He also makes other animated rides and furniture.
During the early 1800's the Dentzel Carousel Company, not yet so named, began as a winter occupation at Michael Dentzel's southern German wagonmaking workshop. During the summer months Michael and family would set up their carousel on village sites as they traveled by horse drawn wagons throughout southern Germany.
Michael sent his sons across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States. Gustav, the eldest, was in charge of a full sized carousel packed on the sailing steamer to America around 1860. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Gustav established a cabinetmaking and carouselmaking business, the carousel business flourished. Many trained European immigrant woodworkers were hired by the Dentzel company to make the beautiful horses and menagerie animals as well as chariots and remarkably sturdy mechanisms (completely covered with scenic panels and classic wood carvings) for the Dentzel Carousel Company of Germantown, Pennsylvania. These were set up in large pavilions in cities across the USA.
Gustav's two sons, William and Edward, continued this business building large elegant galloping carousels, many of which continue to operate today (see census). Edward relocated to southern California in the 1920's to set-up and operate carousels on amusement piers. In 1927, with William's death, the company folded, much of its inventory was sold to the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. Edward continued his life in California as a house contractor in Beverly Hills building many large mansions; he eventually became a city councilman and then mayor.
Edward's son William 2nd, named after his uncle, was born in Santa Monica, California, studied at Georgetown University and practiced law and raised a family in the San Fernando Valley, northwest of downtown Los Angeles. In mid-life he too answered the carouselmaker's call to carve animals and made several small carousels for disadvantaged children at hospitals and community centers (still in operation across today).
After graduating university his son William 3rd worked on wooden sailboats and carousel restoration during travels in his 20's eventually building his first full carousel in Chiapas, Mexico at age 31. After some more boat work and a wood carving stay in Saint Jean-Port Joli, Québec, Canada, he moved to Port Townsend WA where he and his wife Penny raised three children while immersed in the small town and carousel world. Upon William 2nd's death in 1991 in Santa Barbara CA, William 3rd continued the daunting task of fitting the Dentzel Carousel Company into the age of computer technology and eventually the Internet.
Community and student participation with a big focus on what the children really enjoyed became the theme of the reinvigorated Dentzel Carousel Company. Simple 5, 10, or 15 rider wooden carousels with hand-crank, foot-pedal or electric powered mechanisms have become the style that carries the craft into the 21st century. The brass ring catching game, an integral part of the carousel ride going all the way back to its origin over 1000 years ago, remains a standard component of the new Dentzel Carousels.
The ancient origin of the carousel and its use as a military training device in the early Middle Ages is where the tradition of the ring catcher began with swords and target dummies then switched to rings as it came into public use. The fun and versatility of the centuries old "flying horses" style of mechanism has also been retained by the DCC. In the Dentzel tradition a variety of menagerie animals are made for the rides, swing seats are also used along with the animals to the great satisfaction of the riders. Adults as well as children can ride these latest Dentzel carousels.
This website has information and photos on the present and past endeavors of the five generations of Dentzel carouselmakers, see the Projects and Galleries. Also included are guides to carving, painting and operating carousels. The coloring book on this site was drawn by William 3rd for use as a painting guide when doing restoration work as well as a design guide for making larger scale drawings to construct full sized carousel animals. During the nearly two centuries of Dentzel carouselmaking, mechanism designs have gone from the very simple to the grand and back again to the simple. Children’s attraction and appreciation for all types of carousels has never waned though it appears that their more intimate contact with the smaller machines is exceptionally memorable, especially when the ring catching game is played.