140 years ago on June 16th, 1884
America's first roller coaster opens in Coney Island
Named the Switchback Railway, it was 50 feet tall and traveled down 600 feet at a speed of 6 mph. The inventor, LaMarcus Adna Thompson, designed the sloping track after riding a former coal mining railway in eastern Pennsylvania that people had begun using for entertainment purposes. The structure built in Coney Island ran in a straight line instead of a loop, with rolling tracks connecting two high platforms. As the train cars reached the end, they were lifted along the last slope, much like any modern roller coaster, then switched to a return track that duplicates the ride in reverse.
Here's how LaMarcus Thompson described the Switchback Railway in his patent application:
Ordinarily, two cars will be employed and pass each other, one on the outgoing and the other on the incoming track, which will greatly increase the pleasure over that which would be afforded if only a single track were used. This construction and arrangement affords a very enjoyable means for amusement and pleasure, the sensation being similar to that of coasting on the snow, with the difference that the conveyance runs on wheels and returns the passenger to the starting-point without the necessity of having to walk up a hill for a second ride.
The Switchback Railway was short-lived and quickly replaced with upgraded rides with modified designs. The Cyclone, Coney Island's famous wooden roller coaster that still stands today, would open 43 years later. 🎢