From Death Traps to Disneyland: The 600-Year History of the Roller Coaster

Rides may be faster and taller over the centuries, but the rules of physics still apply.

The resounding click-clack muffles the murmur of anticipation as the train inches up the wooden structure. When the riders reach the apex, the bright blue summer sky swallows everything. Then, with a lurch, gravity takes over.

Everybody screams.

This is the legendary Giant Dipper roller coaster on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, located 75 miles south of San Francisco. Opened in 1924, it’s one of the world’s oldest roller coasters still in operation. Its maximum height of 75 feet pales in comparison to the behemoths that have been built in the century since. But the screams are no less deafening.

“You get to ride something your grandparents rode,” says Richard Munch, co-founder of the American Coaster Enthusiasts and historian for the soon-to-be-opened National Roller Coaster Museum in Plainview, Texas, “That’s so unusual in this day and age.”

“You get to ride something your grandparents rode.”

Today, the world’s amusement parks are locked in a race of oneupmanship. Every new attraction must top what came before. Right now the world’s tallest roller coaster is in development, the world’s fastest hybrid coaster is in its maiden season, and the coaster with the most inversions in the country debuts next year.

Yet even the most technologically-advanced roller coasters aren’t much different from those rickety wooden coasters of the past.

“The basic core technology of a roller coaster is unchanged since the early 1900s,” says Robert Coker, author, theme park attraction designer, and co-host of the theme park podcast Season Pass. “Like a great composer, you have eight notes and a standard octave…but what you do with those notes is what makes it genesis.”

The first roller coasters weren’t made of steel. They were made of ice.

Tracing their roots to 15th century Russia, these Middle Age thrill machines were giant wooden structures with frozen-over ramps. People slid down on ice blocks. Unsurprisingly, accidents were commonplace. “I was terrified out of my wits for fear… to go down for I had the… dread of breaking my neck,” reads one account.

Still, the slides were extremely popular. They became so fashionable with nobility that lighted torches were installed so people could slide well into the night.

The first roller coasters weren’t made of steel. They were made of ice.

Tracing their roots to 15th century Russia, these Middle Age thrill machines were giant wooden structures with frozen-over ramps. People slid down on ice blocks. Unsurprisingly, accidents were commonplace. “I was terrified out of my wits for fear… to go down for I had the… dread of breaking my neck,” reads one account.

Still, the slides were extremely popular. They became so fashionable with nobility that lighted torches were installed so people could slide well into the night.

Read the entire story

SOURCE: Popular Mechanics

Post Author:

Leave a Reply