The History of the Modern Roller Coaster: 131 Years in the Making

Today (June 16, 2015), 131 years ago, the first modern roller coaster opened to the public, the Switchback Railway at Coney Island. It travelled at a speedy 6mph and was a hit. Since then, thousands of roller coasters have been built all across the world. Here are some of history’s most notable roller coasters!

The Switchback Railway at Coney Island, New York was built in 1884. As the first modern roller coaster, it inspired replicas and new models of roller coasters to be built all across the world. (Image-Wikimedia)
In the early 1900s, the famous roller coaster designer John Miller patented several advancements in safety for roller coasters. He also designed several roller coasters through the 1920s, which became the “Golden Age” of roller coasters. This coaster was the Ravine Flyer at Waldameer Park in Erie, Pennsylvania. (Image-Waldameer)
Another “Golden Age” John Miller coaster is the Jack Rabbit at Kennywood in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania. It is one of three John Miller wooden coasters at Kennywood that operate today (the other two are Racer and Thunderbolt). These are some of the few roller coasters that survived the Great Depression. As the economy collapsed, numerous parks across America collapsed with it. Fortunately, these three coasters survived. (Image-Wikimedia)
The Coney Island Cyclone is one of the most famous wooden coasters in the world. It opened on the 26th of June in 1927 and has given riders a thrill to this date. It’s another coaster that survived the Great Depression, or Dark Age of roller coasters. (Image-Wikimedia)
The next major step in roller coaster history didn’t occur until the year 1959, when Disneyland opened the Matterhorn, the world’s first steel roller coaster. This Arrow Developments roller coaster started the phenomenon of steel tubular roller coasters, which allowed for bigger and greater rides than ever before. (Image-Disney)
In 1972, Kings Island opened The Racer, a classic dueling roller coaster. The Recer started the second Golden Age of roller coasters. Similar coasters opened at other theme parks, such as Kings Dominion and Carowinds. The Racer began a new phenomenon of roller coasters in America. (Image-Wikimedia)
In 1975, the tubular steel track of the Matterhorn was used to create a roller coaster inversion. At Knott’s Berry Farm, Arrow Development, the manufacturers of the Matterhorn, created Corkscrew, the first steel inverting coaster. It started a revolution of inverting roller coasters around the world! The modern loop-de-loop was not on this ride, it was first used on Revolution at Magic Mountain, which opened the following year. (Image-Ultimate Roller Coaster)
In 1977, Kings Dominion opened the world’s first launched roller coaster, King Kobra. The Anton Schwarzkopf designed roller coaster was also the world’s first shuttle loop roller coaster. (Image-Flickr)
Another famous dueling wooden coaster was Colossus. It opened in 1978 at Six Flags Magic Mountain, which at the time was just Magic Mountain, and was the tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster. (Image-Wikimedia)
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1978 was the opening year for yet another famous roller coaster, the Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. At the time, it was the world’s tallest roller coaster. Its interlocking loops are still a famous symbol of Busch Gardens Williamsburg.
In 1979, Kings Island opened yet another record breaking roller coaster, the Beast. It was the longest wooden roller coaster on the planet. It is a fan favorite for several coaster enthusiasts. (Image-Wikimedia)
In 1981, Arrow Dynamics built The Bat, the first suspended roller coaster. It only operated for a short period of time at Kings Island, but it was re-designed and re-opened at a different spot at Kings Island. This type of coaster became the “it” family coaster. (Image-KIExtreme)
In 1989, Cedar Point started the roller coaster wars by building Magnum XL-200. It was the first ever roller coaster to break 200 feet. After this ride was built, parks around the world battled for the tallest and fastest roller coasters. (Image-Wikimedia)
In 1992, the famous roller coaster manufacturer Bolliger & Mabillard created their first roller coaster (as their own company), Batman: The Ride. It was the first ever inverted roller coaster. Now, there are several of these across the world, including Montu at Busch Gardens Tampa and Alpengeist at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. (Image-Six Flags Great America)
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In 1996, Kings Dominion launched itself back into the history books with Flight of Fear, the first LIM launched roller coaster. This premier rides roller coaster inspired clones at parks such as Kings Island and Six Flags America.
In 1997, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Intamin broke history yet again by building Superman: The Escape. It was the first ever coaster to break 400 feet and travelled at 100mph. (Image-Wikimedia)
Next, Six Flags Great Adventure and B&M created the world’s first floorless roller coaster, Medusa, in 1999. It is currently known as Bizzaro and has a fantastic soundtrack! (Image-Wikimedia)
In 2000, Cedar Point and Intamin opened the world’s first gigacoaster, Millennium Force. It is still one of the most popular roller coasters of all time. (Image-Wikimedia)
In 2000, the Vekoma-built Stealth became the first ever flying coaster at California’s Great America. These roller coasters are some of the most unique and intense rides. It’s currently located at Carowinds and is known as Nighthawk. (Image-Wikimedia)
Another record breaker that opened in 2000 was Son of Beast. This was the world’s tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster when it opened. It was the only wooden hypercoaster and it was the first wooden coaster with a vertical loop. Unfortunately, the ride was plagued with multiple accidents and was closed to the public forever. (Image-Wikimedia)
In 2001, Kings Dominion built the world’s first Air-Powered launch coaster. The S&S roller coaster launched from 0-80mph in 1.8 seconds. Sadly, the roller coaster experienced frequent technical difficulties, and closed in 2007. The station still stands between the Hurler and the Grizzly. (Image-Wikimedia)
In 2002, Arrow Dynamics built the world’s first 4D roller coaster, X, at Six Flags Magic Mountain. The ride’s seats flipped as it travelled throughout the course. Sadly, like most other prototypes, the ride had several issues and closed in 2007. S&S ironed out the issues and it re-opened the next season as X2. Currently, the ride is a popular attraction at Six Flags Magic Mountain. (Image-Wikimedia)
In 2004, Intamin built the world’s tallest and fastest roller coaster, Top Thrill Dragster, at Cedar Point. That new addition initiated the coaster wars yet again. The next year, Six Flags Great Adventure decided to top them with the addition of Kingda Ka (pictured above), which became the world’s tallest roller coaster at 456 feet. (Image-Wikimedia)
The final roller coaster to make major history is Outlaw Run at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri. Outlaw Run was the first ever inverting wooden coaster manufactured by Rocky Mountain Construction. Since then, they’ve built more inverting wooden coasters and have transformed old wooden coasters into steel hybrid coasters with inversions. Rocky Mountain Construction has transformed the Colossus roller coaster into Twisted Colossus, a dueling steel hybrid coaster. These Rocky Mountain Construction roller coasters are some of the newest and most popular attractions to date. (Image-Silver Dollar City)

The roller coaster has become the most popular thrill ride of all time in its 131 years. The 6mph thrill machine known as the Scenic Railway has grown into steel behemoths that travel above 100mph. After 131 years of innovation in thrills, I can’t wait to see what the next 131 years will bring to roller coasters. This blog probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for these thrill machines! So, after 131 years, and plenty of history, the roller coaster has evolved itself into the crazy species we see today. If you want to know more about these and other types of roller coasters, you can read more on our website and other theme park websites. Thanks you for visiting Theme Parks and Travels! Be sure to follow us here on WordPress and share with the buttons below! Also, you can find us on YouTubeFacebookTwitterInstagramGoogle+, and Tumblr!

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