If your favorite entertainment is plunging down a 97-degree incline at over 200 km/h, you’d probably like to thank the inventor of the roller coaster.
Thrills and Spills. People managed to find ways of terrifying themselves at high speeds long before roller coasters. In the 1700s the Russians built steep icy hills that people slid down on seats made of wood or ice. Later, wheels were attached. They didn’t have many safety features. Modern-day roller coasters began in the USA.
A steep 14-km switchback railway track used for delivering coal in Pennsylvania was built in 1827. People paid 50 cents each to ride on it.
La Marcus Adna Thompson created a ‘Switchback Railway’ in 1884 as an amusement ride. It wasn’t wildly exciting but it was the first roller coaster.
Rides soon became popular and new and better roller coasters were built, including the first one that formed a circuit, built by Charles Alcoke.
One of the first roller coasters to loop the loop was the Flip Flap, opened in Brooklyn in 1895. It was extremely dangerous so it was soon dismantled.
Wooden roller coasters appeared all over the world in the early 20th century. By 1959 the first steel track was used in Disneyland’s Matterhorn Bobslides and 80 years after the disastrous Flip Flap, the Corkscrew safely looped the loop at Knott’s Berry Farm, California.
Kingda Ka in New Jersey, opened in 2005, is the world’s fastest roller coaster at 206 km/h and has the longest drop: 127 m.
The oldest roller coaster that still works is Leap the Dips at Lakemont Park, dry Pennsylvania. It first opened in 1902. In some languages, the word for ‘roller coaster’ translates as ‘Russian mountain’, remembering the invention’s ice-slide origins.