LaMarcus Adna Thompson

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LaMarcus Thompson LaMarcus Adna Thompson.gif
LaMarcus Thompson

LaMarcus Adna Thompson (March 8, 1848 – May 8, 1919) was an American inventor and businessman most famous for developing a variety of gravity rides and roller coasters.


Early years

Thompson was born in Jersey, Licking County, Ohio on March 8, 1848. His parents were Adna Thompson (father), and Nancy D Thompson (mother). He had a brother named Olvid. In his adolescence he became a skilled carpenter. In 1873 he began operating a grocery store in Elkhart, Indiana. There he began designing a device to manufacture seamless hosiery. He made a fortune in that business, but failing health forced him to quit it. [1]

Father of the gravity ride and the roller coaster

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

Thompson is best known for his early work developing roller coasters and for inventing the scenic railway genre of rides. He is known as the "Father of the American Roller Coaster" [2] and is often also called the "Father of the Gravity Ride". Over his lifetime, Thompson accumulated nearly thirty patents related to roller coaster technologies. An example is the patent granted December 22, 1884 for the Gravity Switch-back Railway. [3] Thompson's work built upon an earlier patent for an "Inclined Railway" by John G. Taylor, and upon the general idea of gravity-powered inclined rides dating back to at least the 17th century through the overall history of the roller coaster.

Thompson's breakthrough ride was the "Gravity Switchback Railway", which opened at Coney Island in 1884. A (6 mph) ride cost 5 cents. In 1887, along with designer James A. Griffiths, he opened the Scenic Railway on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, N.J. Thompson's scenic railway concept initially was intended to give riders a scenic view of the surrounding landscape; later, Thompson created elaborate painted backgrounds and scenes so that riders would feel like they were touring the Swiss Alps or other foreign landscapes. [2]

Thompson was managing director of the L. A. Thompson Scenic Railway Company, 220 West 42nd St., incorporated in 1895. Thompson's scenic railways were immensely popular during the first and second decade of the 1900s, and his company operated six major scenic railways at Coney Island alone during that time. [2] Dozens of scenic railways operated throughout the U.S. and in Europe. Eventually, the scenic railway was eclipsed by faster and more thrilling roller coaster rides made possible by improvements in roller coaster safety technology. [2]

Thompson died at his home, Thompson Park, Glen Cove, Long Island, on May 8, 1919, at age 71.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roller coaster</span> Rail-based amusement park ride

A roller coaster, or rollercoaster, is a type of amusement ride that employs a form of elevated railroad track designed with tight turns, steep slopes, and sometimes inversions. Passengers 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Vertical loop</span> Roller coaster inversion

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roller coaster inversion</span> Roller coaster element

A roller coaster inversion is a roller coaster element in which the track turns riders upside-down and then returns them to an upright position. Early forms of inversions were circular in nature and date back to 1848 on the Centrifugal railway in Paris. These vertical loops produced massive g-force that was often dangerous to riders. 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. Elements have since evolved from simple corkscrews and vertical loops to more complex inversions such as Immelmann loops and cobra rolls. The Smiler at Alton Towers holds the world record for the number of inversions on a roller coaster with 14.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scenic Railway (Dreamland Margate)</span> Roller coaster at Dreamland Margate in Kent, UK

The Scenic Railway is a wooden roller coaster located at the Dreamland Amusement Park in Margate, United Kingdom. It first opened in 1920 and is the oldest roller coaster in the UK. The ride is distinctive compared to modern-day roller coasters, as a brakeman is still required to travel with the train to control its speed, manually applying brakes when needed. It is also one of only eight scenic railways in the world, and the UK's English Heritage granted the roller coaster Grade II listed status in 2002 and Grade II* listed status in 2011. The Scenic Railway was non-operational from 2006 until 2015 amid park closure and restoration following an arson attack.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shuttle roller coaster</span> Type of 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.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Indoor roller coaster</span>

An indoor roller coaster or enclosed roller coaster is a roller coaster built inside a structure. The structure may be unrelated to the ride, or it may be intended solely or primarily for the ride. Many indoor coasters are custom made and placed in amusement parks or shopping malls. LaMarcus Adna Thompson, who pioneered the construction of the first simple roller coasters, initially built "scenic railway" rides including "indoor tableaux, panoramas, and biblical scenes illumined by car-tripped switches and flood lamps". A "completely enclosed roller coaster" called the Twister was built as early as 1925. Walt Disney World's Space Mountain was one of the first rides considered to be an indoor roller coaster, and was "the first indoor roller coaster where riders were in total darkness for the length of the ride so they couldn't tell where the drops or turns would occur".

John A. Miller was an American roller coaster designer and builder, inventor, and businessman. Miller patented over 100 key roller coaster components, and is widely considered the "father of the modern high-speed roller coaster." During his lifetime, he participated in the design of approximately 150 coasters and was a key business partner and mentor to other well-known roller coaster designers, Harry C. Baker and John C. Allen.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Switchback Railway</span> Former roller coaster at Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York

The original Switchback Railway was the first roller coaster at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York City, and one of the earliest designed for amusement in the United States. The 1885 patent states the invention relates to the gravity double track switchback railway, which had predicated the inclined plane railway, patented in 1878 by Richard Knudsen. Coney Island's version was designed by LaMarcus Adna Thompson in 1881 and constructed in 1884. It appears Thompson based his design, at least in part, on the Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway which was a coal-mining train that had started carrying passengers as a thrill ride in 1827.

Rockaways' Playland was an amusement park that operated from 1902 to 1987 in Rockaway Beach in Queens, New York City. Bounded by Beach 97th and Beach 98th Streets between Rockaway Beach Boulevard and the Rockaway Beach and Boardwalk, Rockaways' Playland was created in 1902 by roller coaster designer LaMarcus Adna Thompson. By 1903 a ferry dock was added not far from the park, making it more convenient to reach than some of the competing amusement parks. The park was sold in 1927 to Robert Katlin who added amenities such as a gym and swimming pool, and the following year to A. Joseph Geist who achieved greater success than the previous owners. Between 1928 and 1970, Rockaways' Playland was extremely successful, drawing 175 million visitors. It closed in 1987 due to a sharp increase in the price of insurance. 

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rough Riders (roller coaster)</span> Former roller coaster at Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of the roller coaster</span>

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Frederick A. Church (1878–1936) was an American engineer and early roller coaster designer. He is most famous for his "Bobs" series of roller coasters that featured severe banking, steep drops, and nonstop action.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Flip Flap Railway</span> Looping roller coaster in New York, 1888–1902

Flip Flap Railway was the name of a looping wooden roller coaster which operated for a number of years at Paul Boyton's Sea Lion Park on Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. The coaster, which opened in 1895, was the first looping roller coaster to operate in North America. It was also notable for its engineering as well as the extreme G-forces that this engineering inflicted on riders.

Lina Beecher was an American inventor and roller coaster engineer. Beecher is best known for building the first looping roller coaster in North America, which was known as the Flip Flap Railway, and a later looping roller coaster known as Loop the Loop. He is also known for designing a number of other inventions and patents with a variety of applications.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Loop the Loop (Olentangy Park)</span>

Loop the Loop was an early looping steel roller coaster which operated at Olentangy Park in Columbus, Ohio during the first decade of the 1900s. It was one of the first looping roller coasters to operate in North America, and it was designed and built by noted inventor Lina Beecher.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Loop the Loop (Coney Island)</span>

Loop the Loop was a dual-tracked steel roller coaster that operated on Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York, from 1901 to 1910. The coaster was one of the first looping roller coasters in North America.


  1. "L. A. Thompson Dead. Inventor of Scenic Railway Dies at His Home, Thompson Park". The New York Times. March 9, 1919. p. 20.
  2. 1 2 3 4 David A. Sullivan. "LaMarcus Adna Thompson's Scenic Railways at Coney Island". Retrieved November 19, 2016.
  3. "Google patents, US patent# 332762, GRAVITY SWITCH-BACK RAILWAY" . Retrieved February 13, 2013.