Charles I. D. Looff was a master carver and builder of hand-carved carousels and amusement rides in America. Looff built the first carousel at Coney Island in 1876. During his lifetime, he manufactured over 50 carousels, several amusements parks, numerous roller coasters and Ferris wheels, and built California’s famous Santa Monica Pier. He became famous for creating the unique Coney Island style of carousel carving.
Charles Looff was born in Bramstedt, Duchy of Holstein, Denmark on May 24, 1852 as Karl Jurgen Detlev Looff. He learned the art of woodcarving and immigrated to the United States, arriving in New York City on August 14, 1870. Settling on Leonard Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, he found work as a carver at a furniture factory. Working part-time as a ballroom dance instructor, Looff met and married Anna Dolle in 1874. After working in the furniture factory all day, he took scraps of wood home to his apartment and began carving them into carousel animals. Young Looff assembled his wooden horses and animals onto a circular platform and created his first merry-go-round. In 1876, he installed his ride at Vandeveer’s Bathing Pavilion at West Sixth Street and Surf Avenue. This was Coney Island’s first carousel.
Charles Looff opened a factory at 30 Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn and built two more carousels, doing all the carving himself. He located one at Feltman’s Beer Garden on Surf Avenue, Coney Island, and the other at Young’s Pier at Atlantic City, New Jersey. Impressed with this new kind of amusement ride, Mr. Young bought it from the ecstatic carver. Looff began to hire expert carvers such as John Zalar, Marcus Charles Illions, John Mueller and Charles Carmel to help with his expanding business.
Charles and Anna produced six children: Anna (1875–1896), Helen (1877–1956), Emma (1879–1938), Charles (1881–1924), William (1883–1945), Arthur (1888–1970). All except Anna, who died at age 21 as a result of a trolley accident, would work with their father in the carousel business.