Gustav Wilke’s Merry-Go-Round

Posted 3/10/21

By Shirley Dalaska – Pioneer Room Volunteer The details of this article were researched March of 2021. Gustav Karl Wilke was born August 30, 1865 in Magdeburg, Germany. On April 1, 1879, he …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Gustav Wilke’s Merry-Go-Round


By Shirley Dalaska – Pioneer Room Volunteer

The details of this article were researched March of 2021.

Gustav Karl Wilke was born August 30, 1865 in Magdeburg, Germany. On April 1, 1879, he started his profession as a blacksmith. He married Dorothee and in 1896 the family, which included four children, immigrated to the United States. While in St. Paul he heard that Hastings needed a blacksmith so the family moved to Hastings where Gustav worked in his trade for more than 50 years. Sometimes for other blacksmiths and twice on his own.

Working the hot forge and then going outside in the Minnesota winters gave Gustav a serious lung condition. His doctor insisted he spend a year or two in the open air.

In 1902 he built a scale model merry go round, one inch to the foot for a total of 36 inches. From there he built a real merry go round, 36 feet wide.

Merry go round devices were used in medieval times as a training machine for knights in battle. Knights would sit on wooden planks arranged in a circle. As they spun around, the knights would try to thrust their lances through small stationary rings. Eventually, merry go rounds evolved to entertainment.

The first patent for a carousel, called the “flying horses”, was granted in the United States to a Brooklyn business in 1850. In 1909 a patent for a merry go round mechanism was granted so gears would not jam and shear off.

On April 5, 1902, the Hastings Gazette noted that Gustav received twenty unique wooden flying horses from Germany. Then the Gazette of April 26 noted that he received a large organ from Austria and his merry go round would be put in operation on his premises on Seventh Street.

On May 3 Gustav sold his blacksmith shop near the high bridge to C.L. Schwebs of St. Paul Park. Then the Gazette of May 10 noted that Gustav was starting his merry go round on Seventh Street that day. A horse was used to turn the merry go round and he would walk for two hours before he was replaced by another.

Gustav operated his merry go round on Seventh Street for a few weeks before moving it to the Depot Park for a week. An excursion from St. Paul and Minneapolis brought over a thousand people to Hastings near the Vermillion Falls on June 7. They were entertained by dancing and athletic exhibitions and a baseball game. Gustav’s merry go round was heavily patronized.

Another large excursion from the cities was scheduled for June 8 and Gustav remained in town for that party too.

On June 29 the Gazette noted that Gustav had taken his merry go round from Red Wing to Cannon Falls.

Gustav was asked to come to Vermillion Station but he was afraid the town was too small and he would not be able to earn enough to be profitable. The mayor finally guaranteed him $200 so he moved his equipment to Vermillion Station. His profits from Vermillion Station were $840.

Hastings’s mayor, Ed Tuttle, visited Gustav at Antlers Park near Lakeville and asked him to return to Hastings to help with the 4th of July celebrations. Gustav complied and returned to Hastings.

On July 12 Gustav took his merry go round to Rosemount. The paper reported that the organ was nearly ruined on Sunday by someone breaking into the tent and turning the crank the wrong way.

On July 26 the merry go round moved to Lakeville for a week. Hampton mayor Reinhart Mies wanted Gustav to come to Hampton and also gave him the $200 guarantee. Gustav moved to Hampton on Monday, set up on Tuesday and started to play at 8 pm. When 11:00 came he wanted to close down for the night but people protested. Mayor Mies came out and told him to continue until people were ready to stop. The merry go round played on, and on, and on – until about 4 a.m. In Hampton the crowds kept increasing, coming from Hastings, Cannon Falls, Farmington, Rosemount and all the areas around. The platform was always crowded with people wanting to ride the merry go round. On Sunday, Gustav started up at four o’clock in the afternoon to give the children rides. At 8 pm he planned to stop for an hour so people could attend church services. Mayor Mies came out again and told him the priest had given him permission for the merry go round to keep playing.

Before the Hampton engagement ended, Matt Daleiden came around with an offer. Daleiden had come from New Trier a couple years earlier, with a threshing rig. His thresher and separator had worn out, and he had taken the engine, still good, and built a saw rig. From this he had expanded into a lumber yard and a few days earlier the McMillen Lumber Co. had bought him out. McMillen did not want his equipment or lumber.

Matt offered the equipment and lumber to Gustav for half interest in his merry go round. Gustav took the offer and started working at the shop in Hampton. On September 6 Matt bought the other half interest in the merry go round.

On November 22 the Gazette wrote that Gustav was removing his blacksmith shop and family back to Hastings and on December 20 the paper noted the family had resumed their residence on Seventh Street. Gustav set up his shop on Second Street, approximately where the post office is located today.

Matt traveled the country, including our State Fair, with the merry go round and later built one with a motor.