The little wooden horses of Sweden were originally carved by men that worked in the forests during the winter. When they returned to their villages, they gave the horses to children as playthings. This was in the 17th century during which the horses were also sold at market in small towns and villages in the Dalarna region, in central Sweden. The horses were painted in bright colors that were inspired by the furniture in the region. Eventually, even young children learned to carve wooden horses, and, in 1928, one family founded a business producing the Dala horses. They are still producing the horses today in the village of Nusnäs in Dalarna.
The colorful wooden horse debuted internationally at the world fair in Paris in 1936, where it garnered enough attention that the Swedish committee at the fair decided to showcase the horses at the next fair. In 1939, at the New York World’s Fair, a Dala wooden horse became notable around the world. That was because an enormous painted Dala horse was placed outside the Swedish pavilion, which caused excitement throughout the crowds of visitors. In the year following the exhibition, it’s been said that more than 20,000 Dala horses were shipped to New York and the Swedish Dala horse immediately became a symbol for Sweden.