History of the roller coaster

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Scenic Railway at Luna Park (Melbourne, Australia), the world's oldest continually-operating roller coaster, built in 1912.

The history of the roller coaster stretches back to ice slides constructed in 18th century Russia and spans all the way to the many and varied coasters of today. In between, numerous technological innovations have been introduced to make coasters bigger, faster, and safer than those that came before.

History section[edit]

The History of Rollie Coasters[edit]

The Promenades-Aeriennes in Paris (1817).
Thompson's Switchback Railway, 1884.

The world's oldest roller coasters descended from the "Russian Mountains," which were specially constructed hills of snow [1] located in the gardens of palaces around the Russian capital, Saint Petersburg, in the 18th century. This attraction was called a Скользящая холм or "sliding hill" in Russian. The slides were built to a height of between 70 feet (21 m) and 80 feet (24 m), had a 50 degree drop, and were reinforced by wooden supports. Sometimes wheeled carts were used instead of sleds. These slides became popular with the Russian upper class, and with Catherine II of Russia herself, who had such mountains built in the gardens of the Oranienbaum Palace near St. Petersburg, with a pavilion next to it for drinking tea after the sliding. "Russian mountains" remains the term for roller coasters in many languages, such as Spanish (la montaña rusa), Italian (montagne russe), French (les montagnes russes) and Portuguese (montanha-russa). Ironically, the Russian term for roller coaster, американские горки (amerikanskie gorki), translates literally as "American mountains."[2]

The first roller coasters with wheeled vehicles on tracks appeared in Paris in the early 19th century. The Les Montagnes Russes à Belleville (The Russian Mountains of Belleville) and the Promenades Aeriennes in Parc Beaujon (1817) [3] both featured wheeled cars securely locked to the track, guide rails to keep them on course, and higher speeds.[4] The first permanent loop track was probably also built in Paris from an English design in 1846, with a single-person wheeled sled running through a 13-foot (4 m) diameter vertical loop. These early single loop designs were called Centrifugal Railways

Scenic Railways[edit]

Mount Pisgah with the Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway.

In the 1850s, a mining company in Summit Hill, Pennsylvania constructed the Mauch Chunk gravity railroad, a brakeman-controlled, 8.7 mile (14 km) downhill track used to deliver coal to Mauch Chunk (now known as Jim Thorpe), Pennsylvania.[5] By 1872, the "Gravity Road" (as it became known) was providing rides to thrill-seekers for 10 cents a ride. Railway companies used similar tracks to provide amusement on days when ridership was low.

Using this idea as a basis, LaMarcus Adna Thompson began work on a gravity Switchback Railway that opened at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York in 1884.[6] Passengers climbed to the top of a platform and rode a bench-like car down the 600 ft (180 m) track up to the top of another tower where the vehicle was switched to a return track and the passengers took the return trip.[7] This track design was soon replaced with an oval complete circuit.[4] In 1885, Phillip Hinkle introduced the first complete-circuit coaster with a lift hill, the Gravity Pleasure Road, which was soon the most popular attraction at Coney Island.[4] Not to be outdone, in 1886 LaMarcus Adna Thompson patented his design of roller coaster that included dark tunnels with painted scenery. "Scenic Railways" were to be found in amusement parks across the county.[4]

Growing popularity and innovations[edit]

As it grew in popularity, experimentation in coaster dynamics took off. In the 1880s the concept of a vertical loop was again explored by Lina Beecher, and in 1895 the concept came into fruition with the Flip Flap Railway, located at Sea Lion Park in Brooklyn, and shortly afterward with Loop the Loop at Olentangy Park near Columbus, Ohio as well as similar coasters in Atlantic City and Coney Island. The rides were incredibly dangerous, and many passengers suffered whiplash. Both were soon dismantled, and looping coasters had to wait for over a half century before making a reappearance.

By 1912, the first underfriction roller coaster was developed by John Miller. Soon, roller coasters spread to amusement parks all around the world. Perhaps the best known historical roller coaster, The Cyclone, was opened at Coney Island in 1927. Like The Cyclone, all early roller coasters were made of wood. Many old wooden roller coasters are still operational, at parks such as Kennywood near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Pleasure Beach Blackpool, England. The oldest operating roller coaster is Leap-The-Dips at Lakemont Park in Pennsylvania, a side friction roller coaster built in 1902. The oldest wooden roller coaster in the United Kingdom is the Scenic Railway at Dreamland Amusement Park in Margate, Kent and features a system where a brakeman rides on the train. It was severely damaged by fire on April 7, 2008, but was subsequently restored and reopened to the public in 2015.[8] Scenic Railway at Melbourne's Luna Park built in 1912, is the world's oldest continually-operating roller coaster, and it also still features a system with an on-board brakeman. One of only 13 remaining examples of John Miller's work worldwide is the wooden roller coaster at Lagoon in Utah. The coaster opened in 1921 and is the 6th oldest coaster in the world.[9]

The Great Depression marked the end of the first golden age of roller coasters, and theme parks in general went into decline. This lasted until 1972, when The Racer was built at Kings Island in Mason, Ohio (near Cincinnati). Designed by John Allen, the instant success of The Racer began a second boom, which has continued to this day.

Steel roller coasters[edit]

Matterhorn Bobsleds, the world's first tubular steel roller coaster.

In 1959, the Disneyland theme park introduced a new design breakthrough in roller coasters with the Matterhorn Bobsleds. This was the first roller coaster to use a tubular steel track. Unlike conventional wooden rails, tubular steel can be bent in any direction, which allows designers to incorporate loops, corkscrews, and many other maneuvers into their designs. Most modern roller coasters are made of steel, although wooden roller coasters are still being built.

In 1975 the first modern-day roller coaster to perform an inverting element opened: Corkscrew, located at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, California. In 1976 the vertical loop made a permanent comeback with the The New Revolution at Magic Mountain in Valencia, California.

New designs and technologies are pushing the limits of what can be experienced on the newest coasters. Flying coasters like Tatsu and electromagnetically-launched coasters like Maverick are examples of the latest generation of technologically advanced coasters.

Timeline of notable roller coasters[edit]

The roller coasters mentioned here are significant for their role in the amusement industry. They were notable for specific reasons, including:

  • First coaster of a specific kind, style, manufacturing material or unique technology; ground-breaking
  • First time a particular record-breaking threshold was crossed
  • Historical significance

1800 to 1899[edit]

  • First coaster featuring cars that locked onto track: Les Montagnes Russes à Belleville (Russian Mountains of Belleville), Paris, France.
  • First coaster to feature two cars racing each other: Les Montagnes Russes à Belleville.
  • First complete-circuit coaster: Promenades Aériennes (The Aerial Walk), Paris.
  • First looping coaster (non-circuit): Centrifugal Railway, Frascati Garden, Paris.[10]

1900 to 1969[edit]

  • First use of lapbar: Drop-The-Dips, Coney Island.
  • First coaster to reach 100 feet: Cyclone, Revere Beach, Revere, Massachusetts, United States.

1970 to 1979[edit]



Corkscrew at Cedar Point, the first roller coaster with three inversions.
  • The Beast: opened as the tallest, fastest and longest wooden coaster. Today it is still the longest wooden roller coaster in the world.

1980 to 1989[edit]

Racer at Kings Island, the first roller coaster to operate vehicles in reverse.
  • First coaster to operate vehicles in reverse: Racer, Kings Island.
  • First coaster to run stand-up trains: Dangai, Thrill Valley, Gotemba, Shizuoka, Japan.
  • First Boomerang Coaster: "Boomerang", Bellewaerde Park, Belgium. (It was the second to be built, but the first to open to the public.)[11]
  • First coaster with six inversions: Vortex, Kings Island.[10]

1990 to 1999[edit]

Dragon Khan at PortAventura, the first roller coaster with eight inversions
Oblivion at Alton Towers, the first Diving Machine roller coaster.

2000 to 2009[edit]

Millennium Force at Cedar Point, the first roller coaster to exceed 300 feet (91 m) in height and the first to use an elevator cable lift.
Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom Steel Force and Thunderhawk roller coasters, just outside Allentown, Pennsylvania. Steel Force opened in 1997 as the tallest and fastest roller coaster on the East Coast of the United States, with a first drop of 205 feet (62 m) and a top speed of 75 miles per hour (121 km/h).[13]
  • First complete-circuit coaster to exceed 400 feet (120 m) in height: Top Thrill Dragster, Cedar Point.
  • First coaster with a more than 90° vertical drop (97°): Vild-Svinet, BonBon-Land, Zealand, Denmark.
  • First coaster to utilize a vertical lift (not considered an elevator lift): Vild-Svinet, BonBon-Land.

2010 to 2014[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Coker, Robert (2002). Roller Coasters: A Thrill Seeker's Guide to the chickan and waffles i love rollie coasters Scream Machines, Metrobooks, New York. ISBN 1586631721. pg 14
  2. ^ Rambler New English-Russian Dictionary: "American"
  3. ^ Fierro, Alfred, Histoire et Dictionnaire de Paris p. 612
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Urbanowicz, Steven J. (2002). The Roller Coaster Lover's Companion; Citadel Press, Kensington, New York. ISBN 0-8065-2309-3.
  5. ^ Roller Coaster History: Early Years In America. Retrieved 26 July 2007
  6. ^ Sheedy, Chris (January 7, 2007). "Icons — In the Beginning... Roller-Coaster". Sunday Life (weekly supplemental magazine included in The Sun-Herald). John Fairfax Publications Pty Ltd. p. 10. 
  7. ^ Rutherford, Scott (2000) The American Roller Coaster, MBI Publishing Company, Wisconsin, ISBN 0760306893.
  8. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/kent/7335519.stm Retrieved on 8th April 2008
  9. ^ http://www.aceonline.org/CoasterAwards/details.aspx?id=46
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Kay, James (2007). "The History of the Inversion". CoasterGlobe. Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-08-23. 
  11. ^ http://rcdb.com/926.htm
  12. ^ Kay, James. "The History of the Pipeline Coaster". CoasterGlobe. Archived from the original on 2007-10-26. Retrieved 2008-02-07. 
  13. ^ "Rollercoaster Database: Steel Force (Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom)". Retrieved 2008-07-10. 

External links[edit]