From Ice Slides to 400ft Giants, the roller coaster industry has just about always depended on one thing, gravity. Gravity is one of the major factors in the design of a roller coaster. However, gravity is not the only thing that contributes to the design of a coaster.
Many people believe the roller coasters origin started in the 1400s in St. Petersburg, Russia. The early roller coaster did not even roll at all. In fact, it was just an Ice Slide. They where usually nicknamed "Ice Mountains." For at the time they were very tall. They were about 70 feet high with an angle of descent of about 50 degrees. 50 degrees was steeper than most coasters in the 1920s. There was sand at the end of the stretch after the hill to stop the rider. Sometimes it worked sometimes it did not. Some creative designers even made bumps at the end, which were very dangerous. The cars were blocks of ice (sometimes wood, but especially ice) with the top hollowed out and lined with wood and wool for the riders to sit on. There was a short rope that went through a small drilled hole that the rider could hold onto. The rides where so risky that they required skill by the rider. Many people made money by teaching others for a fee. The rides were so popular they were built inside with waxed wooden slopes. Catharine the Great even took part and rode the slides.
During the Napoleonic Wars, French soldiers returned to their homeland (France). There is no doubt they enjoyed the Ice Slides in Russia. Because of the much warmer climate in France, they could not make Ice Slides. They created dry slides with wheeled boards. The tracks dipped up and down on their way to the bottom. These became such great success that in 1817 two roller coaster-like rides were opened, the Les Montagnes Russes at Belleville and the most popular Promanades Aeriennes in Beaujon Gardens, Paris. Riders would start in one of the two central towers and would curve down and up and up the incline. It went as fast as 40 mph. The wheels axles projected into grooves cut into the walls as guide wheels. Therefore it was locked onto track. Attendants would push the cars back up the central towers. M. Lebonjor invented a very early cable system in 1826 that may have laid people off but made a faster and more efficient way to get the riders to the top. Many people debate weather it was France or Russia who is the birthplace of the roller coaster.
Robert Cartmell, who teaches drawing and printmaking at the State University of New York at Albany, is a roller coaster enthusiast, and a member of the National Amusement Device Company says the first switchback railway was built in Russia as early as 1784. The ride was built in the Gardens of Oreinbaum in St. Petersburg. In the wintertime, the Ice slides would operate while in the summer wheeled carriages would run on grooved tracks. This was very much like the first United States switchback railways. The significance of the switchback is that it had to be switched back to another track to get on the track because there was no turn around technology yet. The Russian ice slides most likely went out of style in the 1800s.
In 1827 in Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania Joasiah White and Erkine Hazard built a railroad to haul coal from a strip mine up on Summit Hill down the Lehigh Canal in Mauch Chunk, some 18 miles away. The slope from Summit Hill to Mauch Chunk drops 96 feet every mile. The train only needed a little push to get started down the hill. It exceeded 100 miles per hour. The trip down the valley took one half an hour. To return back up the hill, it was pulled by mules, which took up to three hours. By 1844 coal was the main source of power in the United States. A faster and more efficient way was needed for transporting coal on Summit Hill.
Joasiah White built a second lane to create a figure 8 layout. This allowed coal cars to be constantly going up and down the mountainside. Two steam engines, each with 120 horsepower attached by cable two "Barneys" which would attach to the car and pulled the car up the lift. The first Anti-rollback system was built on the Mauch Chunk railway. At Mt. Jefferson, the car would attach to a new track called at gravity rail. It was here that the cars were loaded and coasted back down through a very Scenic 18-mile path to Mauch Chunk near the Delaware Canal.
When the figure 8 was completely done someone had thought of putting people in the cars and pushing them down. It was instant success. It immediately became a very large tourist attraction. In February of 1872 the Hauto Rail Tunnel was completed through the near by North Mountain which brought in National Railways bringing in even more tourist. By 1874 the Mauch Chunk railway was the second biggest tourist attraction in the United States after Niagara Falls. It cost only one dollar for the round trip up Summit Hill, which took only one hour and twenty minutes. It totaled up to around 40 miles. After taking tours of the area at the top, passengers re-boarded the trains for the way down.
The passengers had no idea what they where about to experience. The Valley Gazette in Lansford described it as:
"the car spun along at frightening speed. On a curve a mans straw hat flew into the air like a kite. Women dug their nails into wooden seats to keep them from being whisked out of the car A little boy lost a button on his shirt. His mothers grip on him was like a vice. He wondered why she looked so pale. The ladies were struggling to keep their skirts down over their knees, but the driver showed no mercy. Faster they went until birches, pines, hemlocks, rocks, stumps, earth, and sky all blurred into one. Plunging down the hill they could hardly remain seated. Rounding corners, everyone was flying to the opposite side in a squeezing heap. The elderly man whose straw hat vanished began to wonder why he came. His will wasnt in order and the valley looked like 100 miles straight down. The small boy was beginning to enjoy the ride, but his mother felt she was going to faint."
The Mauch Chunk railway was certainly the first mechanical roller coaster ride in the United States. It still holds the record for the highest altitude (1,260 feet) and the longest length (18 miles). In 1976, The Mauch Chunk Railway was declared a historical monument. Tracks can still be found today from the old railroad. There is a lot of talk about rebuilding and restoring the Mauch Chunk.
La Marcus Adna Thompson was one of the many tourists who rode the Mauch Chunk railway in the 1870s. La Marcus was born on March 8, 1848 in Jersey, Ohio. He had 9 brothers and sisters. He grew up on a farm in the backcountry. He was a lover of mechanical stuff as a child. He often built mechanical tools for his mother & father. Such things as a devised butter churn, mini-sawmill, and an ox-cart. He tried many different jobs throughout his life that he was very good at with his inventive mind, such as building houses. He invented seamless hosiery. He was the founder of the famous Eagle Knitting Company. After 6 years, he had to take a rest from the very busy job.
When he did ride the Mauch Chunk railway, he was under doctors orders not to ride because he was recuperating from nervous exhaustion. On his trip he thought of the gravity ride and its marketing potential. He was not the first person to think of the roller coaster. J.G. Taylor and R. Knudson where the first to think of it, however since La Marcus was the first to get his built he was given credit for the roller coaster. That's how he got the name " Father of the Gravity Ride." Thompson's roller coaster, The switch back railway opened in 1884 at Coney Island. It was an immediate success. It cost 5 cents a ride. It ran at a top speed of six miles per hour and it was fifty feet high and four hundred feet long. The track was very "indualating" or smooth and wave like. When the passengers got to the end of the last dip attendants pushed or carried the trains back to the top. When the train was switched back to the other track, passengers boarded again and took the ride back. People would stand in line for up to 3 hours. The ride profited about $600 dollars a day, which was a lot at the time.
In that very same year Charles Alcoke from Hamilton, Ohio created the first continuous circuit coaster without of the need of a switch back. The coaster was named Serpentine Railway. It too was built at the legendary Coney Island. The trains was very unique because the benches faced sideways for better sight seeing. The layout for this coaster was later named the "out and back." Phillip Hinkle built a coaster in San Francisco, California, which was higher and scarier than any other coasters built at the time. He also added the steam powered chain lift.
Thompson's response was to create his own company which would build many more scenic railways all over the country. Thompson hired John Miller as his Chief-Engineer. John Miller would later dominate the coaster industry.
Lina Beecher created the first elliptical curve or teardrop shaped loop. This reduced the "g-forces" at the bottom of the loop. However it was so ruff it was closed down because some people snapped their necks. Coasters at Coney Island were being built and torn down so much that one Coney Island lover said the coasters were" weeds that popped up as fast as they were torn down."
Coney Island consisted of three parks: Luna Park, Steeplechase Park which consisted of the famous eight lane racing and dueling steeplechase, and the 3rd park was Dreamland. Back in that day, Coney Island was not a family park. It was where were drugs were sold and often gangs hung out there. To try to prevent gangs coming in to Luna and Steeplechase Park made an entrance fee. Coney Island also had a lot of fires. Each time it was re-built, it was re-built less carefully.
Many parks were originated from trolley businesses that needed money due to fewer people using their trolleys because of the automobile industry growing. Such parks as Kennywood in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, and Blackpool Pleasure Beach in Lancashire, England. Many parks that were built in the city had no room for parking or Expansion. Trolley parks were often built in the countryside.
Later came the Stock Market Crash and the World Wars. Most coasters were torn down for the war effort. Before the Great Depression there was thousands of coasters in the United States, however after the number was reduced to a couple hundred. Amusement parks were thought to be old fashion.
On July 17, 1955, Walt Disney opened Disney land. Back in the 20s people went to Amusement parks for scares. Walt Disney changed that. He made a land of nd fun. Walt Disney Land was created as a family place. This park "single handedly" brought back the Amusement Industry to its feet.
John Miller who was born in 1872 started working on amusement type rides as a mechanic and ride operator at the age of 19. Like stated earlier in this report he was appointed by the "Father of all Gravity Coasters" La Marcus Adna Thompson to be his Chief- Engineer for Thompson's company, Thompson Scenic railway. He designed only wooden coasters. He was born and raised in Homewood, Illinois. His original name was Augest Mueller. He probably changed his name for racial reasons for he was German. He created many safety features that we still use today such as the side and under friction wheels. With these, John knew he could make his coasters go faster and have tighter curves, steeper drops, and sharper bends than any of his competition. He also invented the anti-rollback dog that keeps the train form rolling backwards on the lift. This is why on most coasters lift you hear the familiar click, clank, click, clank sound. It is John Millers Anti-rollback system. Since John had rights on these features, no one could use them except for him. Just about all parks had a John Miller designed coaster.
John Miller built coasters such as the Big dippers and the Racers. The Pippin which was in built in 1924 in a ravine and re-modeled and moved to a different location in 1969. In 1969 the Pippin was renamed the Kennywood Thunderbolt. John also built another coaster at Kennywood, the Jack Rabbit in 1920 with an 85 foot double dip drop. Both coasters are still operating today. Four other coasters he designed were the Sky Rocket, Deep Dipper, Thriller and the Cyclone. He later worked for the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. Sadly, he died in 1941.
Harry Traver lived from 1877-1961 built the only coaster in history, which had to have a nurse at the exit platform. People often broke ribs, arms, and legs. People even got concussions. This coaster was the legendary Crystal Beach Cyclone at Crystal Beach Ontario, Canada. He first started his career making gentle family rides. He invented such rides as the Tumble Bug and the Circle Swing. Harry Traver was born in Gardner, Illinois. He built the first all steel structured roller coaster in the world. He believe that steel structures were stronger, and he was right, He re-designed the Fredrick Church Toboggan by making the trains heavier, which made a continuous speed of 60 miles per hour pulling 3-g. When the Great Depression hit, he moved his family to England were he built the Grand National racing roller coaster at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in Lancashire, England. It was built to resemble the Cyclone Racer which he designed in America.
Frederick Church, who was in partnership with Harry Traver. Frederick built some of the best rides ever, the Cyclones and the Bobs. Not too much is known about Frederick Church because a lot of the history about him was burnt along with many of the Traver files. Church designed the derby-carousel. Only three remain to this date, including the one at Cedar Point. He built well over one hundred coasters in his lifetime. Church worked many years at the entrance to one of his rides, "Race through the Clouds," at Venice Amusement Park in California now known as Six Flags Magic Mountain.
Herb Schmeck was born in 1890 and is given credit for the Philadelphia Toboggan Company's success. He joined the Philadelphia Toboggan Company as a construction engineer directly out of college. The Philadelphia Toboggan Company dominated the coaster industry in the 20s and 30s. He created the first ever coaster at Hershey Park in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It even made money through the Great Depression. Throughout his life, he created over 210 coasters as well as numerous fun houses, tunnels of love, water chutes, and cuddle up rides. Herb handed down his studies to John Allen who would bring coasters back in the late 50s.
John Allen brought the second golden of roller coasters up. He became president of the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1954. He helped in the Animation coaster "This is Cinerama" a fake coaster built in 1939. This helped bring roller coasters back for a second golden age. He built many coasters in Ohio such as the Racer at Paramount's Kings Island, Blue Streak at Cedar Point, and Sea Dragon at Wyandot Lake. His coasters were smooth and graceful unlike rides in the 20s. He was born on May 21, 1907 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He died there in 1976. In his lifetime he had many great achievements such as having the honor in helping dismantle, the legendary Harry Traver designed Crystal Beach Cyclone. Many people say John Allen's coasters are not just coasters. They are works of art. His favorite coaster he ever built was Screamin Eagle built in 1976 at Six Flags Over Mid-America the same year he died. It was 3,872 feet long, 110 feet high, and a top speed of 62 miles per hour.
Curtis Summers and Charlie Dinn worked together for about 5 years. What they designed in those years was amazing. Summers was a structural engineer from Ohio who designed the 330 foot 1/3 scaled version of the Eiffel tower at Paramount's Kings Island. Summers also helped John Allen on the Kings Island racer. Dinn helped in the movement of the Phoenix. Together they built such coasters as Mean Streak, the fourth longest wooden coaster in the world and the longest at Cedar Point. They first met when Dinn approached Summers to redesign the superstructure of the re-located Rocket. This brought on the great partnership. They also designed the Raging Wolf Bobs. The partnership dominated the wooden coaster market in the late 80s. The partnership ended when Summers parted and died a year later but not before he helped with Japans first and only wooden roller coaster.
Ron Toomer joined Arrow in 1965. He does not like to ride roller coasters. However he designed the first roller coaster in the second golden age of roller coasters to go up side down which was Corkscrew at Knott's Berry Farm in 1975. Corkscrew was the first tubular steel looping coaster. He later helped with the design of the first vertical loop roller coaster which was "Revolution" at Six Flags Magic Mountain. He also designed Vortex at Paramount's Kings Island, and Corkscrew, Magnum, Gemini, and Iron Dragon all at Cedar Point. The Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Virginia was also designed by him. He designed The Bat, which was dismantled from Paramount's Kings Island. The Bat was the first ever-suspended roller coaster. It was too expensive to maintain because of no banking in the track. No banking caused the shocks to break. There is a story about the Bat that the shocks warn out so fast that they had to be replaced within a week. Many people say it was the best suspended rollercoaster ever.
Anton Schwarzkopf died recently in year 2001. His nickname was "Mr. SuperDooperLooper man." He was one of the greatest if not the greatest making tightly compact coasters. He could make coasters so light that they could be carnival rides and still endure the forces. He made a very tight coaster in a shopping mall called "Mindbender." In Munich he designed, the Olympic Looping that has a two consecutive side by side loops. He also designed Wildcat and Millennium Force at Cedar Point. Anton was the first to make a Shuttle Loop Coaster. It was launched by a weight then through a loop and up an incline. Then you went through the course all over again with a twist, you went backwards! Not too many of these remain today. Paramount's Kings Island had the first one, which was removed in the 80s.