Philadelphia Toboggan Company Carved
Carousel Animals For 33 Years
The Philadelphia Toboggan was one of the makers of the spectacular wooden horses carved for the wonderful carousels being produced around the beginning of the 20th century.
During the 33 years in which the PTC carved these horses, a wide variety of styles were used, including medieval, Art Nouveau, and Wild West. This diversity of styles is one reason why the public cannot always easily identify a PTC horse. While the company employed some of the best carvers to be found during this time, they also had a few of the worst, further complicating the identification issue.
The Philadelphia Toboggan Company produced its first carousel in 1899 for the Chestnut Hill picnic grounds. It featured horses running three abreast.
The PTC carousels from the beginning were made to be stationary features in whatever park they were placed, rather than smaller, portable items used by the traveling carnival companies. Care was taken to coordinate the carousel structure, crestings and the decorated parts of the rounding boards and tableaus on the central panels. At their peak, the large park carousels had horses running four or five abreast on platforms up to 60 feet in diameter.
The first of the great carvers employed by the company were Daniel and Alfred Miller, who helped establish a reputation of elegance and realism.
When they left to form their own company, the PTC hired a succession of free-lance carvers, most of whom were mediocre at best. The company went through a period where their horses were poorly proportioned and carved in stiff, unnatural poses. The bodies didn’t match the heads and shoulders well, and the proportions were often awkward.
By the second decade of the 20th century, the company once again had some skilled craftsmen working for it and they began turning out horses that were larger, more realistic and more ornate than ever. With a variety of carvers, a variety of horses was produced, but always within certain constraints.
For example, while touches of the “Coney Island” style - flashy, heavily jeweled carvings - was allowed, it could only be used moderately. While some carvers preferred this type, others were sculpting muscular, pleasant-faced animals with festooned and stencilled saddles.
The entire carousel-producing industry was winding down by the 1920s. The Philadelphia Toboggan Company was the last of the great carousel makers to discontinue production, in 1934.
While the PTC is known to have made at least 87 carousels, very few have survived. Corrosion of the metal parts and splitting of the wood destroyed many. Park fires claimed some and vandals claimed many others that were left abandoned in parks no longer used. A few, however, have been restored and are once again enjoyed by children at several of the theme parks around the country.
There are two opportunities in the Northwest to ride an original Philadelphia Toboggan Company carousel. The carousels were numbered by the company.
The Western Washington Fairgrounds in Puyallup has #43. It was built in 1917 and has 42 horses, mounted 3 abreast. It is said to be the most complete one of its kind in the country.
The Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle has #45, built in 1918 for an amusement park in Cincinnati, Ohio. With stops at several other parks before it got to Seattle, it has now found a permanent home at the Woodland Park Zoo. (In an interesting modernization note, it is now powered by solar power, according to an online website.)
As a side note, the “toboggan” in the company’s name refers to the eight-sided wooden roller coasters that the company made, which were called toboggans.
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