In the early 20th century, the Herschell Company dominated and defined the buzzing industrial city of North Tonawanda. With over 150 lumber mills, Wurlitzer organs and Richardson boats being produced in town as well, North Tonawanda took advantage of its unique natural habitat and placement near the water to become a major industrial force. But it was the beautiful carousels made by Herschell that were the pride and joy of the town — so much so that the sign greeting you as you entered city limits said “Welcome to North Tonawanda: The Home of the Carrousel.”
The factory founder, Allan Herschell, was actually a foundry owner in the area and upon seeing a wooden carousel on a trip to New York City, decided to create them himself. His foundry allowed him to make the most challenging piece of the equipment, the steam boiler which propelled it, and the area had an abundance of lumber along the river. Coupled with the excellent transportation system with the Erie Canal and the Western New York railroads, he could easily ship out his finished products to buyers. The area was also settled by German immigrants who were skilled wood carvers, making the production even easier to manage.
The Factory complex is made up of over ten structures, primarily built between 1910-1915, and contained a large carving shop, a woodworking shop, a paint shop, a storage area, an upholstery shop, a machine shop and a roundhouse where the carousels were assembled and tested. Over the years, more than three thousand carousels were produced and shipped out of the factory all over the world. The factory also produced rides for children and adults, including roller coasters and carnival rides. The company moved to Buffalo in the 1950s and changed hands multiple times over the years.
In 1979, a group of ten people gathered together to discuss how to preserve the heritage of the factory and the carousels, including bringing an original carousel back to North Tonawanda. The initial question of how to raise money for converting the original factory building into a museum was answered with a door-to-door drive selling $2 tickets to locals to ride the carousel once it arrived, raising over $10,000. After further fundraising efforts by a dedicated team of believers, the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum opened its doors in 1983 and an original 1916 Herschell carousel was made available to the public to ride.