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The Band Organ Story

The history of the Merry-Go-Round band organ can be traced all the way back to the late nineteenth century when these instruments were being imported principally from Germany, France and Belgium. By turn of the century, as carnival owners lined up in droves to get one, band organs were beginning to be made in the US. The most prominent maker of band organs was WurliTzer, which made their last organ in 1942.

In the 1960s, carnival owners began to sell their organs as they were tired of the maintenance and the heavy lifting involved. The advent of High Fidelity sound recordings put an end to the band organ as midway people were quick to change to recorded music.

One Minnesota carnival operator announced that his Merry-Go-Round business dropped off 40% the first year he did not have his band organ. He was further frustrated to find that he had sold a valuable antique and it would cost many times more to buy another.

This sad state of affairs contributed directly to the demise of the Merry-Go-Round as many operators sold their rides. Ride manufacturers took merry-go-rounds out of their catalogs.

More recently, carnival operators have heard comments from the public that they miss the band organs. Some more enterprising owners have upgraded their sound systems hoping for better ridership only to find that there is no improvement. In the 1990s, several ride makers are again offering new Merry-Go-Rounds with some being highly decorated like the turn-of-the-century carousels. The band organ in conjunction with the traditional Merry-Go-Round has been found an indispensable item. Another way of stating it is that the Merry-Go-Round without a band organ has no soul. People are not interested in riding to the sounds of blaring speakers.

Presently we have two national carousel societies that are devoted to the restoration of old carousels complete with their band organs. Numerous nonprofit civic organizations have been formed to raise funds to have antique carousels placed in public venues for the whole family to enjoy. The print and TV media have shown a keen interest in covering carousel installations especially if they have been restored using historically correct methods. Two television stations covered a story in Barnesville, MN when the Merriam Midway out of Tempe, Arizona showcased their new carousel complete with new band organ.

Carousel owners whether they are carnival operators or civic clubs need to be aware that they are all now part of a very important historical revival of the carousel and band organ. They can be very proud to be helping preserve this slice of Americana for "children of all ages" to enjoy.

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