This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

“AAAAIIIIEEEEE” “AAHHHHH!” “AARRGH!” !

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January 20, 1885: L.A Thompson Patents Roller Coaster

Thompson

Thompson

LaMarcus Adna Thompson (March 8, 1848 – May 8, 1919) was an American inventor and businessman best known for his early work developing roller coasters, he is sometimes called the “Father of the Gravity Ride”.  Thompson accumulated nearly thirty patents related to roller coaster technologies. An example is the patent granted 22 Dec. 1885 for the Gravity Switch-back Railway, the first roller coaster designed as an amusement park ride. Thompson’s Gravity Pleasure Switchback Railway opened at Coney Island in 1884, a 6 mph ride would cost you 5 cents.

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Gravity Pleasure Switchback

Thompson did not invent the roller coaster. The history of the roller coaster dates back to at least the 17th century. The oldest roller coasters are believed to have originated from the so-called “Russian Mountains”, which were specially constructed hills of ice around Saint Petersburg, Russia. Built in the 17th century, these wooden structures were built to a height of between 70 and 80 feet, and consisted of a 50 degree drop.

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With ice frozen over a long sloping ramp a staircase led to the launch area where riders mounted a sled made of either wood or ice. A straw mat added some protection between the freezing ice and the riders’ bottoms, brrrrrr. A length of rope was looped through a hole drilled in the block so that sliders had something to hold onto.

A French businessman brought the ice slides to France but quickly realized his country was not quite cold enough. In 1817, Les Montagues Russes a Bellevilles was the first ride that locked the sleds’ wheels into a track. Thus the world’s first roller coaster.

Ariel Walk

Ariel Walk

In that same year, The Aerial Walk, a coaster ride that featured a heart-shaped track was also unveiled. The two tracks of this ride would fan out from the launch tower and meet again at the lift hill. The next move toward today’s modern roller coasters would be made across the Atlantic in the United States.

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Gravity Switchback Railway

world-first-roller-coasterLaMarcus Adna Thompson began work on the Gravity Switchback Railway that opened at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York in 1884. Passengers climbed to the top of a platform and rode a bench-like car down the 600-foot (180 m) track up to the top of another tower where the vehicle was switched to a return track and the passengers took the return trip.

The Great Depression marked the end of the first golden age of roller coasters, and amusement parks in general went into decline. This lasted until 1972, when The Racer was built at Kings Island in Mason, Ohio. The instant success of The Racer began a second golden age, which has continued to this day.

Kings Island's Racer

Kings Island’s Racer

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For all you roller coaster enthusiasts out there . . . Top 10 Rollercoasters in the World

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