History of the roller coaster

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Coney Island Cyclone in Brooklyn, New York, was built in 1927 and refurbished in 1975. Coney Island 2010 109.JPG
Coney Island Cyclone in Brooklyn, New York, was built in 1927 and refurbished in 1975.

Roller coaster amusement rides have origins back to ice slides constructed in 18th-century Russia. Early technology featured sleds or wheeled carts that were sent down hills of snow reinforced by wooden supports. The technology evolved in the 19th century to feature railroad track using wheeled cars that were securely locked to the track. Newer innovations emerged in the early 20th century with side friction and underfriction technologies to allow for greater speeds and sharper turns. By the mid-to-late 20th century, these elements intensified with the introduction of steel roller coaster designs and the ability to invert riders.




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 Katalnaya Gorka (Катальная Горка) or "sliding mountain" 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, and had ice on top. 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 ), and French ( les montagnes russes ). Ironically, the Russian term for roller coaster, американские горки (amerikanskie gorki), translates literally as "American mountains." [2]

The Promenades-Aeriennes in Paris (1817). Promenades Aeriennes Jardin Baujon.jpg
The Promenades-Aeriennes in Paris (1817).

Russian soldiers occupying Paris from 1815 through 1816, after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, may have introduced the Russian amusement of sledding down steep hills. [3] In July 1817, a French banker named Nicolas Beaujon opened the Parc Beaujon, an amusement park on the Champs Elysees. Its most famous feature was the Promenades Aériennes or "Aerial Strolls." [4] It featured wheeled cars securely locked to the track, guide rails to keep them on course, and higher speeds. [5] The three-wheel carts were towed to the top of a tower, and then released to descend two curving tracks on either side. King Louis XVIII of France came to see the park, but it is not recorded if he tried the ride. Before long there were seven similar rides in Paris: Les Montagnes françaises (The French Mountains), le Delta, les Montagnes de Belleville (The Mountains of Belleville), les Montagnes américaines (the American Mountains), Les Montages lilliputiennes, (The miniature mountains), Les Montagnes suisses (The Swiss mountains) and Les Montagnes égyptiennes (The Egyptian mountains). [3]

In the beginning, these attractions were primarily for the upper classes. In 1845 a new amusement park opened in Copenhagen, Tivoli, which was designed for the middle class. These new parks featured roller coasters as permanent attractions. 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. In 1887, a French entrepreneur, Joseph Oller, the owner of the Moulin Rouge music hall, built Les Montagnes Russes à Belleville (The Russian Mountains of Belleville) a permanent roller coaster with a length of two hundred meters in the form of a double-eight, later enlarged to four figure-eight-shaped loops. [3]

Scenic railways

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. [6] By 1872, the "Gravity Road" (as it became known) was selling rides to thrill seekers. Railway companies used similar tracks to provide amusement on days when ridership was low.

Thompson's Switchback Railway, 1884. Thompsons Switchback Railway 1884.jpg
Thompson's Switchback Railway, 1884.

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. [7] 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. [8] This track design was soon replaced with an oval complete circuit. [9] In 1885, Phillip Hinkle introduced the first complete-circuit coaster with a lift hill, the Gravity Pleasure Road, which became the most popular attraction at Coney Island. [9] Not to be outdone, in 1886 LaMarcus Adna Thompson patented his design for a roller coaster that included dark tunnels with painted scenery. "Scenic Railways" were soon found in amusement parks across the county, [9] with Frederick Ingersoll's construction company building many of them in the first two decades of the 20th century.

Growing popularity and innovations

Loop the Loop, an early looping roller coaster at Coney Island, 1906 Coneyisland1906.jpg
Loop the Loop, an early looping roller coaster at Coney Island, 1906

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 1919, the first underfriction roller coaster had been developed by John Miller. [10] 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 the brakeman rides the car with wheels. It was severely damaged by fire on April 7, 2008, but was subsequently restored and reopened to the public in 2015. [11] 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 where the brakeman rides the car with wheels. 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. [12]

The Great Depression marked the end of the golden age of roller coasters, as amusement parks generally went into a decline that resulted in less demand for new coasters. This lasted until 1972, when The Racer opened at Kings Island amusement park located in what was then a part of Deerfield Township in Warren County, Ohio. Designed by John C. Allen, the instant success of The Racer helped to ignite a renaissance for roller coasters, reviving worldwide interest throughout the industry.

The rise of steel

Matterhorn Bobsleds, the world's first tubular steel roller coaster. MatterhornBobsled2000 wb.jpg
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, which are generally formed using steel strips mounted on laminated wood, 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 along with hybrids of steel and wood.

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 Great American Revolution at Magic Mountain in Valencia, California.

Timeline of notable roller coasters

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

1800 to 1899


  • First roller coaster featuring cars that locked onto track: Les Montagnes Russes à Belleville (Russian Mountains of Belleville), Paris, France.
  • First roller coaster to feature two cars racing each other: Les Montagnes Russes à Belleville.
  • First complete-circuit roller coaster: Promenades Aériennes (The Aerial Walk), Paris.
  • First roller coaster: Cat Magic Brittain




1900 to 1970





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



  • First roller coaster to utilize up-stop wheels: Jack Rabbit, Kennywood, West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, United States.


  • First roller coaster to reach 100 feet: Cyclone, Revere Beach, Revere, Massachusetts, United States.










Corkscrew at Cedar Point, the first roller coaster with three inversions. Corkscrew1 CP.JPG
Corkscrew at Cedar Point, the first roller coaster with three inversions.




  • The Beast: opened as the tallest, fastest and longest wooden roller coaster. Today it is still the longest wooden roller coaster in the world.
    Carolina Cyclone Carolina Cyclone (Double Loop).JPG
    Carolina Cyclone





Racer at Kings Island, the first roller coaster to operate vehicles in reverse. PKI-Racer.jpg
Racer at Kings Island, the first roller coaster to operate vehicles in reverse.





  • First roller coaster with six inversions: Vortex , Kings Island. [13]






Dragon Khan at PortAventura Park, the first roller coaster with eight inversions Rollercoaster dragon khan universal port aventura spain.jpg
Dragon Khan at PortAventura Park, the first roller coaster with eight inversions





Oblivion at Alton Towers, the first Diving Machine roller coaster. Oblivion Drop.jpg
Oblivion at Alton Towers, the first Diving Machine roller coaster.




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. Millennium Force1 CP.JPG
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). Dorney Park Steel Force Thunderhawk.jpg
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).




  • First complete-circuit roller coaster to exceed 400 feet (120 m) in height: Top Thrill Dragster , Cedar Point.
  • First roller coaster with a more than 90° vertical drop (97°): Vild-Svinet , BonBon-Land, Zealand, Denmark.
  • First roller coaster to utilize a vertical lift (not considered an elevator lift): Vild-Svinet, BonBon-Land.



  • Kingda Ka opens as the tallest roller coaster in the world.
    Furius Baco, Port Aventura Furius Baco Port Aventura 1.jpg
    Furius Baco, Port Aventura













See also

Related Research Articles

Roller coaster Ride developed for amusement parks

A roller coaster is a type of amusement ride that employs a form of elevated railroad track designed with tight turns, steep slopes, and sometimes inversions. People ride along the track in open cars, and the rides are often found in amusement parks and theme parks around the world. LaMarcus Adna Thompson obtained one of the first known patents for a roller coaster design in 1885, related to the Switchback Railway that opened a year earlier at Coney Island. The track in a coaster design does not necessarily have to be a complete circuit, as shuttle roller coasters demonstrate. Most roller coasters have multiple cars in which passengers sit and are restrained. Two or more cars hooked together are called a train. Some roller coasters, notably Wild Mouse roller coasters, run with single cars.

Wooden roller coaster Type of roller coaster

A wooden roller coaster is most often classified as a roller coaster with running rails made of flattened steel strips mounted on laminated wooden track. Occasionally, the support structure may be made out of a steel lattice or truss, but the ride remains classified as a wooden roller coaster due to the track design. The type of wood typically used in the construction of wooden coasters is Southern Yellow Pine, usually grown in the US and the rest of North America.

Steel roller coaster

A steel roller coaster is a roller coaster that is defined by having a track made of steel. Steel coasters have earned immense popularity in the past 50 years throughout the world. Incorporating tubular steel track and polyurethane-coated wheels, the steel roller coasters can provide a taller, smoother, and faster ride with more inversions than a traditional wooden roller coaster.

Vertical loop

The generic roller coaster vertical loop, where a section of track causes the riders to complete a 360 degree turn, is the most basic of roller coaster inversions. At the top of the loop, riders are completely inverted.

Roller coaster inversion Section of inverted track on a roller coaster

A roller coaster inversion is a roller coaster element in which the track turns riders upside-down and then returns them an upright position. Early forms of inversions, dating as far back as 1848 on the Centrifugal Railway in Paris, were vertical loops that were circular in nature. They produced massive g-force that was often dangerous to riders, and as a result, the element eventually became non-existent with the last rides to feature the looping inversions being dismantled during the Great Depression. In 1975, designers from Arrow Development created the corkscrew, reviving interest in the inversion during the modern age of steel roller coasters. Since then, the elements have evolved from simple corkscrews and vertical loops to more complex inversions such as Immelmann loops and cobra rolls. Featuring fourteen inversions, The Smiler at Alton Towers holds the world record for the number of inversions on a roller coaster.

Six Flags Magic Mountain Theme park in Valencia, California

Six Flags Magic Mountain, formerly known simply as Magic Mountain, is a 262-acre (106 ha) theme park located in unincorporated Los Angeles County, California, near the Valencia neighborhood of Santa Clarita, 35 miles (56 km) northwest of downtown Los Angeles. It opened on May 29, 1971 as a development of the Newhall Land and Farming Company and Sea World Inc. In 1979, Six Flags purchased the park and added the name "Six Flags" to the park's name.

Arrow Dynamics

Arrow Dynamics was an American manufacturing and engineering company that specialized in designing and building amusement park rides, especially roller coasters. Based in Clearfield, Utah, the company was the successor to Arrow Development (1946–1981) and Arrow Huss (1981–1986), which were responsible for several influential advancements in the amusement and theme park industries. Among the most significant was tubular steel track, which provided a smoother ride than the railroad style rails commonly used prior to the 1960s on wooden roller coasters. The Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland, built in 1959, was Arrow's first roller coaster project.

Shuttle roller coaster

A shuttle roller coaster is any roller coaster that ultimately does not make a complete circuit, but rather reverses at some point throughout its course and traverses the same track backwards. These are sometimes referred to as boomerang roller coasters, due to the ubiquity of Vekoma's Boomerang coaster model.

Ronald Valentine Toomer was an American roller coaster designer credited for designing 93 roller coasters around the world. He graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno in 1961 with a degree in mechanical engineering and was a part of the design team responsible for the Apollo spacecraft heat shield.

Superman: Krypton Coaster Steel roller coaster

Superman: Krypton Coaster is a steel roller coaster located at Six Flags Fiesta Texas amusement park in San Antonio. Manufactured by Bolliger & Mabillard, the Floorless Coaster model opened to the public in 2000 as one of the first of its kind in the world. The well-received ride held the title for the world's tallest vertical loop from its opening until 2013. Superman: Krypton Coaster stands 168 feet (51 m) tall and reaches a maximum speed of 70 mph (110 km/h).

Twisted Colossus

Twisted Colossus is a hybrid rollercoaster located at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Santa Clarita, California. Originally designed and built by International Amusement Devices, the roller coaster opened as Colossus, a dual-tracked roller coaster, on June 29, 1978. It was the tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster in the world and the first with two drops greater than 100 feet (30 m). Colossus became well known after appearances in film and television, including the box-office hit National Lampoon's Vacation and the made-for-TV movie Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.

Nighthawk (roller coaster) Steel roller coaster

Nighthawk is a steel flying roller coaster from Vekoma located at Carowinds amusement park. The roller coaster originally opened as Stealth at California's Great America on April 1, 2000. In 2003, Paramount decided to relocate the roller coaster to Carowinds. It reopened as Borg Assimilator – the first coaster in the world to be themed to Star Trek – on March 20, 2004. After Cedar Fair purchased Carowinds in 2006, Paramount themes were soon removed from the park, and the ride was renamed Nighthawk. It is one of only two Flying Dutchman models still in existence from Vekoma.

Batwing (roller coaster) Flying roller coaster at Six Flags America

Batwing is a steel flying roller coaster built by Vekoma at Six Flags America in Prince George's County, Maryland. This is nearly identical to Nighthawk at Carowinds, however that ride has a slightly different ending, and different paint scheme. The ride is also a clone of the now-defunct Firehawk at Kings Island.

Tennessee Tornado Steel roller coaster at Dollywood

The Tennessee Tornado is a roller coaster at Dollywood amusement park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, United States. It debuted April 17, 1999, and was Dollywood's first major coaster expansion as well as one of Arrow Dynamics' last major coasters. The ride opened in a valley location previously occupied by Thunder Express, an Arrow Dynamics Runaway Mine Train roller coaster relocated from Six Flags St. Louis in 1989 and opened in 2002 at Magic Springs and Crystal Falls.

Firehawk (roller coaster) Former roller coaster at Kings Island

Firehawk was a flying roller coaster located at Kings Island in Mason, Ohio. Manufactured by Vekoma, it originally opened as X-Flight at Six Flags Worlds of Adventure on May 26, 2001, billed as the Midwest's first and only flying roller coaster. Cedar Fair purchased Worlds of Adventure in 2004 and began efforts to downsize the park. X-Flight was relocated to Kings Island following the 2006 season, where it reopened as Firehawk on May 26, 2007.

Roller coaster elements are the individual parts of roller coaster design and operation, such as a track, hill, loop, or turn. Variations in normal track movement that add thrill or excitement to the ride are often called "thrill elements".

Afterburn (roller coaster) Inverted roller coaster at Carowinds

Afterburn is an inverted roller coaster located at Carowinds amusement park in Charlotte, North Carolina. After more than two years of planning and construction, the roller coaster opened on March 20, 1999. The ride previously operated as Top Gun: The Jet Coaster, before it was renamed following Cedar Fair's purchase of Paramount Parks in 2006.

Curtis D. Summers was an engineer and American roller coaster designer credited for designing or providing structural engineering on 25 wooden roller coasters around the world. He earned a degree in Architectural Engineering from Kansas State University and was a registered engineer in 40 states.

Full Throttle (roller coaster) Roller coaster

Full Throttle is a steel launched roller coaster located in Six Flags Plaza at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California.It was designed and manufactured by Premier Rides, and opened on June 22, 2013.

Thunderbird (Holiday World)

Thunderbird is a steel roller coaster in the Thanksgiving section of Holiday World & Splashin' Safari amusement park in Santa Claus, Indiana. Designed by Bolliger & Mabillard, the ride opened in 2015 as the eighth Wing Coaster in the world and the fourth in the United States.


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