The History of the Roller Coaster - Infographic

roller coaster history

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Highs & Lows - The History Of Roller Coasters

From giant Russian ice slides to 121-degree inverted drops, roller coasters have had some highs and lows in their history. With this roller coaster infographic, we take a closer look at the history of the roller coaster as well as current roller coaster records including: the tallest steel roller coaster, the tallest wood roller coaster, the fastest roller coaster, the longest roller coaster, the steepest roller coaster and the coaster with the most inversions.

17th Century - Russian Ice Slides

The roller coaster first emerged in Russia in the form of a giant ice slide. The structures were built of lumber, covered by a sheet of ice several inches thick, with a 50-degree drop. They were generally constructed around St. Petersburg.

1784 - The Wheel Debate

There is some debate over who was the first to place wheels on the slide cart. Some credit the Russians, and others credit the French. Large slides with wheeled carts appeared around 1784.

1817 - Les Montagnes

Two coasters called Les Montagnes Russes a Belleville and Promenades Aeriennes are considered the first coasters to lock the cars on a rack by having the axles slide into a groove cut.

1846 - Loopty Loops

The first coaster to loop was the coaster of Frascati Gardens in Paris. It was 43 feet high with a 13-foot wide loop.

1827 - Gravity Road

A mining company in Summit Hill constructed the Mauch Chunk Switchback Gravity Railroad, by the 1850's it was used as a ride.

1878 - Inclined Railways

Richard Knudsen patented the "Inclined-Plane Railway", but never opened the coaster.

1884 - Coney Island

LaMarcus Adna Thompson, the father of the American roller coaster opened the Switchback Railway at Coney Island in Brooklyn. The ride cost a nickel and Thompson made hundreds of dollars a day.

1884 - Full Circle

Charles Alcoke created a coaster that made a complete cirucuit.

1885 - The Lift Hill

Philip Hinkle created the first coaster with a lift hill. It was initially pulled up by a chain and allowed for higher structures to be built.

1920's - The Spread Of Roller Coasters

There were anywhere between 1,500 and 2,000 coasters that operated during this time. This was due in large to the Frederick Ingersoll and the Electric Parks that opened all over the United States.

1930's - Great Depression

The great depression was particularly rough on amusement parks and coasters. The rising cost of insurance and a severe lack of raw materials, due to the Depression and World War II, left many coasters on the verge of destruction.

1959 - Matterhorn Bobsleds

The first tubular steel roller coaster, Matterhorn Bobsleds, was created at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Shi was also the first coaster to use individual break zones.

1960's - The Era Of Six Flags

Started by Wynee, Jr. 1961, the Six Flags amusement chain revolutionized the roller coaster industry. It quickly set the industry standard for thrill rides.

1990's - The Need For Speed

While the 1980's saw many innovations, the 1990's were all about making roller coasters faster and scarier. The Tower of Terror II at Dreamworld in Queensland Australia, traveled faster than 100 miles per hour. The Superman: Escape from Krypton coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California stood over 400 feet tall. The first floorless coaster, Medusa, opened in 1999 at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, California.

2009 - The Ultimate Fear

Saw - The Ride at Thorpe Park in Surrey, England is the first coaster with a 100-degree free fall drop.

The Future

New materials such as carbon-fiber composites will allow coaster cars to be lighter and cause less stress on large supporting structures. Lifts greater than 90 degrees, multiple inversions, and the ability to launch cars at 100 miles per hour in under 2 seconds will be the common features in future roller coasters.