January 20, 2011

U.S. Patent for First Successful Roller Coater – 1885

LaMarcus A. Thompson built the first successful roller coaster in Coney Island, New York.

He called it the “Gravity Pleasure Switchback Railway”—a name entirely unlike roller coaster names these days (the Cyclone, Viper, Intimidator are three examples). The ride only cost five cents (again, how different from today!—a coaster in Las Vegas costs $14 for just one ride!), and passengers sat sideways in cars pulled by gravity down low, gentle waves of a 600-foot rail line (in contrast to the steep hills, vertical loops and corkscrews of today). Thompson's coaster only reached speeds of 6 miles per hour (nowadays some coasters reach 100 miles per hour!), but people loved it and lined up to ride. Apparently the daily earnings of $600 per day were astounding. (I guess, when it's a nickel at a time!)
The roller coaster's beginnings are in Russia, where people would ride blocks of ice (with straw or fur seats) down wood-framed slides on specially constructed hills. In the summer wheeled carts rolled riders down large, undulating wooden ramps not unlike Thompson's railway.

Apparently in many languages roller coasters are called what could be translated as “Russian Mountains.” But in Russia the name for this sort of ride is “American Mountains”!

Celebrate roller coasters!
  • Design a fantastic ride just how you like it. Consider, not just the hills and turns and loops, but also the car design, the name, and the decorations.
  • Take a ride? If you are lucky enough to live near an affordable coaster, you could give in an honorary spin today.
  • Take a virtual ride. There are two links at the bottom of this earlier post
  • Virtually build a coaster or two. Roller coaster simulator gamesare lots of fun and can teach you a thing or two about physics, too. Try the free demo of No Limits Roller Coaster Simulator
  • Learn the physics of roller coasters from this primer

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