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The History of Roller Coasters

The Roller Coaster is a highly sophisticated machine built for the sole purpose of fun. For hundreds of years in its many forms, roller coasters have been thrilling people all over the world. From its beginnings as a modified ice slide with wheels, to the looping wonders powered by high voltage electro magnets, roller coasters have had a very colorful history. Most all of the inventions of this ingenious device were developed by a small group of people. Roller Coasters have a bright future.
Roller Coasters originated from ice slides built in Russia in the 1400's
  • Ice slides were were large triangular structures that were covered with ice and people sledded down them
  • This sport became so popular that even Catherine the Great took part in it
  • The first real roller coaster, ( one built with wheels on a dry track), was constructed on orders of Catherine the Great
  • She loved the sport so much that she wanted to be able to slide during the summer
  • The roller coaster was built in the Gardens of Oreinbaum in St. Petersburg in an amusement center called Katalnaya Gorka in the year 1784.
    Soon after the first coaster was built, the Napoleonic Wars began. Many French soldiers grew fond of the ice slides while in Russia and brought the idea of the roller coaster back with them to France
  • The first two roller coasters that operated on a continuous circuit were built in 1817 in France. One was named Les Montages Russes (The Russian Mountain) was built in Belleville, while the other named Promandes Aeriennes was built at Beajon Gardens in Paris
  • These two coasters were the first ever recorded to have wooden cars with wheels connected to a metal track. These first coasters were locked on to the track by a wheel axis projecting into grooves on the track. There was only one drop on these coasters, but they flew down the hill at an excess of 30 mph, after the coaster reached the bottom of the hill attendants had to push the car up the opposite side
  • The roller coaster soon lost its appeal to the French, but just when it was about to die out a "gravity rail road", which is the same thing as a roller coaster, was unveiled by a mining company in the mountains of Pennsylvania. It was called the Mauch Chunk Railroad
  • The ride was an out dated coal train that was pushed up the hill by a coal engine and then flew back down to the base of the hill
  • This wasn't just any coaster though it still holds the record for the tallest and longest roller coaster ever built
  • It stood 1,269 feet high with a track distance of 18 miles
  • The ride had two separate tracks and was built with a figure eight pattern
  • It cost a dollar for this one hour and twenty minute ride it became the United State's second most visited attraction, right behind Niagara Falls
  • La Marcus Thompson is commonly referred to as "The Father of the Roller Coaster" by roller coaster enthusiasts
  • Born on March 8, 1848, he was an inventor from a very young age, he became a millionaire after inventing seamless hosiery
  • With his money he made, he traveled around the United States and happened upon the Mauch Chunk Railroad. The roller coaster interested him, and he decided that he was going to build the first wooden coaster in the United States, and he did
  • Thompson's Switch back Railroad was built at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. The ride topped out at 50 feet and was an immediate success. This ride began a revolution in amusement park industry, the roller coaster is the most well known amusement device and grosses the most money. Even though La Marcus Thompson's Scenic Railway only charged 5 cents a ride it grossed $600 a day
  • Thompson's monopoly on the roller coaster industry did not last very long. With in a year two more coasters were released
  • One was another scenic railway, in which the main point of the ride was to slowly weave throughout the wood structure and admire the view. But the other coaster that was built in the San Francisco Bay area, this coaster was not built for sight seeing it was a coaster that was almost twice the size of it's predecessors and was based on thrilling it's riders
  • Reacting to this new competition, La Marcus Thompson established a company that created and sold ideas for roller coasters. Thompson and the employees of his company claimed over 30 patents on roller coaster innovations and was perhaps the most influential person in the history of roller coasters
  • The basic concept of his mechanical lift system, anti-roll back wheels, and the use of three wheels to hold the coasters back from flying off of the tracks is still used by many coasters today.
    During the 1920's parks were scattered all over the United States, and most parks had at least one roller coaster. This huge amount of parks is the reason that there were thousands of roller coasters in opperation during the 20's. Most of these parks were owned by trolley and railroad companies that were trying to get people to ride their lines on the week ends and holidays
  • The roller coaster signified the 20's almost as much flappers or jazz music.
    The twenties didn't only have some of the best and most cleverly built coaster ever made, but also the most dangerous. The thrill seeking generation of the 1920's were adventurous and willing to ride almost any roller coaster
  • Without the high tech computer design software of today manufactures used the riders as guinea pigs for their insanely dangerous rides. "The 1920's inarguably saw the most savage and terrifying coasters ever built. Photographs show outrageous angles and curves. Drops of a hundred feet and speeds up to 45 miles per hour were more daring than any amusement rides that had preceded them.
  • After the boom years of the 1920's the roller coaster industry, as well as amusement park suffered a fierce cut back in the number of people attending the parks, as well as the number of rides being built
  • The number of roller coasters in the United States dropped from a little over 2,000 in 1929 to 172 in 1970
  • The cause of this was a mix between the Depression, World War II, a shift in entertainment from actually going and doing things to watching movies and television, and a movement of the majority of the population from the city to suburbia. For almost 50 years roller coasters were on the brink of extinction. The salvation of the roller coaster industry was the invention of the tubular steel track
  • This innovation was made by Carl Bacon and Ed Morgan, it was made for the Matterhorn at Disneyland, in Anaheim, California
  • This new track allowed roller coasters to maneuver in many ways that were previously impossible with a smoother ride. Coasters with this type of track are capable of doing inversions, or loops. With this technology it is possible to do any of 15 different types arieal maneuvers. After this invention Carl Bacon went into business along with two associates and created Arrow Dynamics Inc. of Clearfield, Utah
  • They developed the corkscrew style roller coaster in 1968 which was first installed at Knott's Berry Farm in Buenna Park, California
  • With in the next ten years almost every major park in the United States had one of these multi looping thrillers.
    Wood coasters were helped by the nostalgic reaction from the "smooth" steel ride. A demand was also created for wooden coaster, thanks to a firm started by two young innovative minds, Curtis Summers and Charles Dinn
  • They built The Racer at Taft's King's Island in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1976
  • These new wooden coasters were great, exciting and affordable for smaller parks. Summers and Dinn dominated the wooden coaster market for the late 70's and the entire 80's. They built thirty-two coasters during their reign, many of which are still on the American Coaster Enthusiasts lists of top ten wooden coasters
  • In 1991 Curtis Summers died and the company was lost.
  • But, out of its rubble came Custom Coasters International
  • This company was founded by Charles Dinn's entire family; his daughter, son, son-in-law, and wife all worked with him to make the most successful wooden coaster manufacturing firm in the 1990's
  • The nineties have brought the most change to the coaster industry since it's invention. Many new styles and types of roller coasters have been invented. The first of these during the 90's was the Hypercoaster, it is made exclusively of metal and allows the coaster to grow to heights of over 210 feet of the ground. For the first 8 years of the decade Arrow Dynamics of Clearfield, Utah had a monopoly of the hypercoaster industry
  • They started out with the Magnum XL 200 at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio in 1989
  • Almost every year one of these monsters is built, and each year it surpasses the previous in height and length. For the 1999 season a hypercoaster will open that is 240 feet high at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California
  • These rides handle speeds of up to 86 mph
  • Another form of coasters conceived in the 1990's is the stand up coaster. It was first developed by Kazou Yamada of TOGO coaster builders of Japan
  • On this type of ride, riders stand while riding. They have a shoulder restraint system like most conventional steel coaster, but there is also a bicycle type seat that keeps the rider from coming out from underneath the harness while standing up
  • These coasters were originally only built in Japan, until Paramount's King's Island in Cincinnati, Ohio opened the King Cobra it has one loop, two dips, and horizontal helix
  • Recently companies such as the famous Bolliger and Mallibard of Monthey, Switzerland have built stand up coasters with more advanced elements that are on regular steel looping rides