Welcome to the Pleasure Dome!
The history and construction of European Salon Carousels
In the first half of the 20th century Salon Steam Carousels were the main attraction at many fairs on mainland Europe. They were more impressive, more spectacular and much bigger than all other fairground attractions. IDIUS FELIX tells us more about the operation and history of these magnificent machines.

Salon Steam Carousels dominated almost every mainland European fair in the first part of the last century. These steam-operated platform gallopers had their own enclosing tents with huge facades. They were the place to be at the fair. Not only to enjoy the ride on one of the horses or gondolas, but also because the enclosing tent had tables and chairs for spectators as well as a separate dance floor and a buffet for refreshments. You can only imagine what parties might have take place using confetti and serpentines! It has been said that people always had a great time and a lot of married couples initially met inside these pleasure domes!

However, from the 1940s onwards travelling the salon steam carousel was barely profitable because of the costs of operation and transport. Visitors to the fair by that time also wanted to go higher and faster. That's why the salon steam carousels were broken up or put into storage. Only a very few examples survive, the best perhaps being at the Efteling Amusement Park in the Netherlands.

Operation and Transport
Salon steam carousels were assemblies from a large number of parts from several specialist artisans and other (older) fairground rides. A salon steam carousel was never bought as a whole at one moment in time. There were no manufacturers that sold such a ride as a complete item, so the salon steam carousels mostly evolved into their ultimate appearance by additions over a number of years. Only a small number of families actually owned a salon steam carousel. Famous family-names in the Netherlands were those of Janvier, Wolfs, Benner, Tewe, Nizet, Sipkema, Gebroeders van Bergen, Vincken and Schildmeyer, in Belgium you had Demeyer and in Germany there was the Haase famliy.

In their heydays there were about 35 salon carousels travelling the fairs in the Netherlands. Perhaps the most important family in the Netherlands was the Janvier family. Hendrik Janvier (1868-1932) is considered to be the father-figure of all the Dutch salon steam carousel proprietors. It was his carousel that in the 1950s would eventually find its permanent residence in at the Efteling Amusement Park in Kaatsheuvel, where it still operates today. This example is unique in the world because of its completeness.

It still has its façade with paybox and statues, its enclosing tent, its steam engine, fair organ in the centre of the carrousel and its horses and gondolas. In the gallery below you can make a 'virtual' visit to this unique surviving example.

Travelling a salon steam carousel demanded a lot of personnel and maintenance. To operate the ride the Janvier family had more than twenty people on their payroll, including seven servant-girls and a housekeeper. Building up and pulling down the carousel as well as opening it at the fair itself was hard work and was only possible with enough staff. Building up took about four days and had to be done very carefully. Each part of the base of the carousel was levelled individually to make sure that the moving parts could function properly and the horses and gondolas could be driven and moved by the mechanisms of toothed wheels, pinions, eccentrics and rods. As soon as the last visitors left the carousel was pulled down, systematically packed and put away. Everything had its own place on the trucks. Pulling down took about one and a half days. Most of this work was done at night.

Transport of the salon steam carousel from one fair to another was done mostly by train. Short distances were covered on the road. It has been said that sometimes ships were used as well. The transport of the carousel consisted of twenty-five trucks, including three living vans, a saloon van and a kitchen van. Then there were the twelve "one-axle-trucks" with the horses and gondolas that made up the revolving platform of the carousel. Loaded on a train it needed more than twenty-five railway wagons. A total of more that 150,000 kilogram of materials! Janvier entered into a special contract with the Dutch National Railways for transport of the ride. Transport from the railway station to the fairground and back was done by using horses to pull the trucks.

Construction and working of Salon Steam Carousels
(with reference to the Janvier Salon Steam Carousel Efteling Park)

Revolving Platform
The salon steam carousel is a platform galloper with rocking horses and gondolas. The revolving platform of consists of twelve separate "one-axle-trucks" that are connected and placed in a circle to form the platform of the ride. In the carousel of the Sipkema family there were fourteen of these one-axle-trucks. With the one-axle-trucks in place the diameter is about 12 metres. The platform-floor of the trucks is rectangular and it has brass rails. Putting the trucks together in a circle leaves triangular holes. These triangular holes are covered with platform panels with steps to mount the carousel. The space between each set of steps is filled with painted panels to hide the wheels, gearing, eccentrics, etc. from view.

Horses and Gondolas
The iron spoked wheels of the one-axle-trucks run in a U-shaped rail. The movement of the axle of the trucks is transformed into the galloping movement of the horses and pigs and the rocking movement of the gondolas and coaches by toothed wheels, eccentrics, ball-and-socket joints and rods. In the Janvier carousel there are six trucks with three abreast horses each, two trucks with two horses and a pig and four trucks with gondolas and coaches. The twenty-two horses are by Joseph Hübner, the gondolas and coaches are by Jules Moulinas. There are two pigs with a clown on their back thumbing his nose at the riders behind the pig on which he sits. These pigs with clowns are from the workshops of Carl Müller. During transport the one-axle-trucks were placed in line, the mechanism for moving the horses, pigs, gondolas and coaches was disengaged and the trucks were covered with canvas. By doing so the horses, pigs, gondolas and coaches did not need to be removed from the trucks during transport.

Centre Engine and Organ
In the centre of the steam carousel are the fair organ and the portable steam centre engine. The fair organ in the Efteling-carousel is a book organ, built in 1895 by Gavioli. The steam engine was bought by Hendrik Janvier in 1895. It was built at the engineering-works of König in Swalmen in the province of Limburg, The Netherlands, and was built under license of the famous fairground-engineer Frederick Savage from King's Lynn in England. During World War Two the boiler was declared unfit, at a fair in Drunen. As a result an electric motor was placed on top of the boiler to be able to drive the carousel. The portable steam engine however is still in place at Efteling. Nowadays electricity drives the carousel and the dummy steam engine.

The platform was driven by the steam engine in the following way: There is a toothed crown wheel under the floor of the one-axle-trucks on the inside of the circle they form together. This toothed crown is driven by a toothed wheel mounted on an axle-rod that reaches from the inside of the circle formed by the trucks to the centre of the carousel, under the steam engine. A belt-pulley is mounted on the axle-rod exactly under the flywheel of the steam engine . The flywheel and belt-pulley are connected by a belt and the motion of the steam engine is thus transferred to the platform of the carousel. In earlier days, the portable steam engine had a second small steam engine to drive the fair organ that stood (and still stands) at right angles to the portable steam engine. At the beginning of the 20th century the steam engine was also used to generate electricity. This was absolutely necessary in those days because most of the cities visited couldn't supply electricity at that time for the hundreds of lamps inside the carousel. Outside, carbon-arc lamps were used on the façade.

The Chimney
The chimney of the portable steam engine has a threefold function. Firstly it was used as an outlet for smoke and steam. Secondly it is the centre of rotation for the spinning top of the carousel. The diameter of the spinning top is smaller than the diameter of the revolving platform and it is connected to the platform by twisted brass rods. Thirdly, as a centre pole, it supports the enclosing ceiling. Ridge-rods are fixed to the top of the chimney making an umbrella shape tent and the ceiling canvas covers these. Red curtains are suspended on the inside to hide the ridge-rods. In earlier days, when the weather was good, the canvas and curtains were partially removed to provide fresh air. A spark-catcher was mounted onto the chimney when the steam engine was in use.

Gallery and veranda
There is a gallery and veranda all around the revolving platform in the salon. The outside of this gallery is formed by wooden panels, with paintings by Andreas Gerhardus Giezen, who is responsible for most of the artwork on the inside and the outside of the steam carousel. Giezen was the son-in-law of Hendrik Janvier. On the inside of this gallery there are baroque pillars with ornamentation, mirrors and velvet. Trellis fencing between the pillars separates riders from spectators. Tables and chairs are available for the spectators, as well as a dance floor and a buffet for refreshments.

The exterior sizes of the façade and the tent are approximately thirty metres wide, nine metres in height and twenty-two metres deep. The façade of the steam carousel was originally used as the front of the travelling bioscope show (Cinematograph) of Eduard Weidauer. Hendrik Janvier bought it in 1889. It was then repainted by Andreas Giezen, who was responsible for the three-dimensional paintings. Furthermore he added statues and enlarged the top of the façade.

When the steam carousel arrived at Efteling the façade was repainted by Anton Pieck, a well-known Dutch painter of street-scenes and the "in-house" painter and designer at the Efteling Amusement Park. Pieck also added panels to the Janvier carousel from the Gouke Sipkema steam carousel that was also obtained by Efteling. The entrance to the interior is in the centre of the façade. The entrance itself is a hallway which contains the pay-box. Pieck mounted a female statue that originally was on Anton Benner's bioscope show on the top of the façade above the entrance-hallway . Four small horses originally from the carousel belonging to the showman Schildmeyer's widow were also placed above the entrance. The façade is completed by two statues of Egyptian princesses holding a garland that originally belonged to Sipkema's carousel.

The threat of fire
Fire was a big problem for all steam-powered fairground rides and the salon carousels were no exception. The 6th of October 1946 is in this respect a memorable moment in the history of the salon steam carousel in The Netherlands. On that date a salon steam carousel of the Janvier family, called "Noblesse", burned down during the Liberation Fair on the Malieveld in The Hague. It is stated that this was the most beautiful carousel that has ever travelled in The Netherlands. It had statues and panels in a baroque and rococo-style that were all hand-carved.

Around midnight the salon carousel was closed for the day. As usual, serpentines and confetti were collected and moved to a spot some distance away from the carrousel tent. After that all the paper was sprayed with water to prevent it to catch fire at a later moment. All personnel was going to sleep, but were awakened in the early morning when a terrible accident had happened and the worst was inevitable: despite the cautions the stoomcarrousel and the cake-walk next to it were on fire!! An eye-witness reported:

" Within the carousel tent the steam engine was heated up because of the fire. The remaining water in the steam engine started boiling as a result of the heat of the fire.The steam engine tried to drive the carrousel, but it was no longer possible to have it make it rounds. Slowly the engine started to puff and puff. The hissing transformed into a howling noise that went to the bone. For several hours the moaning and groaning of the dying engine could be heard. The engine said goodbye in a way that the people present would never forget in their lifes...."

Click here for
the Newspaper Report
on the Carousel Fire in the Hague
on the 6th of October 1946

In Conclusion
There are two remarkable things about the salon steam carousel.

? The name of the Janvier Salon Carousel originally was written with one "R" and two "S"-s: "STOOMCAROUSSEL" in Dutch, that would be "STEAM CAROUSSEL" in English, on the carousel itself as well as on the trucks. After its arrival at Efteling, sometime since 1956, this has been changed to "CARROUSELPALEIS" in Dutch, with two "R"-s and one "S", which would be "CARROUSEL PALACE" in English. ?
? ?

? Another unusual thing is that the salon steam carousels (mostly) turn clockwise just like gallopers in England. Most of the fairground rides in Europe and The Netherlnds however turn counter-clockwise, as does the Demeyer Salon Carousel at the Ecomusée in Ungersheim, France does. A possible explanation is given by Weedon and Ward: carousels turn clockwise to enable the animals to be mounted from the correct side?! ?

Click here for our Salon Carousel Picture Gallery


Whenever you visit the Netherlands, be sure to visit the Janvier Salon Carousel at the Efteling to get a smell of what it would have been like at the fairground in the first half of the 20th century. It's definately worth it!

Until next time! See you at the Efteling!

The author would like to thank Brian Steptoe, Dave Page as well as the people of the Efteling Amusement Park in Kaatsheuvel, The Netherlands (
http://www.efteling.nl) and the members of the Stichting Kermis Cultuur (Dutch Fairground Enthusiasts Association) for their help in writing this article.

Idius Felix - May 2002

News | Forum | Archive | Book Shop | UK Attractions | Euro Attractions | UK Vintage Rides

Back to the homepage