Charles I. D. Looff


was a carousel carver who, like his competitor, Gustav Dentzel (1846–1909), immigrated to the United States from Germany and was also an accomplishedwoodworker by the time he arrived in Brooklyn in 1870. Looff then went to work for one of the many furniture makers in the New York area. In 1876, perhapsinspired by Dentzel’s success, Looff created his first carousel. Using scraps of wood from the furniture maker for whom he worked, he fashioned a simple yet functional machine that became an instant success. Within a few years, Charles Feltman, inventor of the “red hot” (or “hotdog”) carousel, approached Looff to create another carousel. In 1880 that second machine opened in Coney Island amusement park in Brooklyn.The ensuing expansion of the Coney Island amusement businesses allowed Looff the opportunity to begin producing carousels full-time. Looff developed a style of carving in keeping with the adventurous nature of the new amusement parks as social spaces by creating animated, sculptural carousel horses and using glass jewels toenhance the figures. This style of carousel carving is now referred to as the Coney Island style.In 1905 the Looff factory relocated to Riverside, Rhode Island, where the local amusement ground, Crescent Park, featured one of his carousels that had been placed there in 1895. Looff used this carousel as a sales model to show potential clients, filling it with a variety of carving styles as well as some of his grandestcreations, including chariots sporting huge, ferocious dragons. At this time, Looff hired a young, Slovenian carver, John Zalar (dates unknown), who continued to work for Looff for twelve years and had a profound influence on the style of the carvings produced at Looff’s factory.Looff had a sharp business sense and realized the potential for carousels and amusement parks on the West Coast, moving his factory again in 1909, this time toLong Beach, California. His goal was to continue manufacturing carousels and other rides, while opening and operating his own amusement parks. Over the next tenyears, with the help of his family, especially his eldest son Arthur, Looff built amusement centers throughout the West Coast. In 1919, Charles Looff passed away at theage of 67, leaving a legacy of grand carousels and millions of happy riders