Florida Guide > Miscellaneous
Roller Coaster History
Always subjective I know, but Florida must surely be one the world locations known for its fun attractions and superb roller coasters. The roller coaster is built to allow us to experience a few minutes of thrill and to allow us to simply forget everything that stresses us in life. A few minutes of pure escapism.
But how did this phenomenon begin? We ride some of the most impressive roller coasters in the world in Florida, and rarely give this a second thought. We’ll it is an amazing story.
The history can be traced back to some dramatic ice slides called ‘Russian Mountains’ which were specially designed and built predominantly around St Petersburg in Russia in the 17th century. The slides were very popular with the Russian upper classes. Catherine the Great was a particular fan and had a number of slides built on her own mansions. The slides themselves were built to a height of about 80 feet with a 50 degree drop, supported by wooden constructions.
1827 saw a Pennsylvanian mining company construct the Mauch Chunk railroad, an 8 mile track (all downhill) used to deliver coal. By the time the 1850’s arrived the railroad was supplying thrill rides for 50 cents a go.
The railroad inspired the idea for a gravity based ‘switchback railway’ built in 1884 at Coney Island, New York. Multiple Passengers could ride a car down a 600ft track to the top of a second tower where the car would then be switched to a return track (hence the term ‘switchback’). Very quickly the track was replaced with a complete oval configured circuit consequently introducing the first complete end-to-end ride. It was known as the ‘Gravity Road’.
By 1895 the idea of looping became reality with the ride named ‘The Flip Flap’ and the ‘Loop-the-Loop’ at Olentangy Park in Ohio. As you can imagine these rides were very rough especially as they were made of wood which expanded and contracted with small temperature changes.
Through the early 20th century wooden roller coasters prevailed albeit with under friction drives, the first developed by a designer named John Miller. There are of course still a number of wooden roller coasters around, much more for their novelty/retro value, I might add though.
The first break through in roller coaster design materialised in 1959 in Disneyland (the Californian Park) in the form of a steel design with tubular track. Unlike wooden designs, steel allowed the designers to bend track into almost any angle and direction to provide smooth car transition through twists, turns and loops. The ride was known as the Matterhorn Bobsleds and was effectively the birth of the modern roller coaster that we know and love today.
The first modern day inversion roller coaster was introduced in 1975 at Knott’s Berry Farm California.
Today of course design and technology is pushing the boundaries of every bodily experience using new technology such electro-magnetism to produce vertical rises, falls and extremes of ‘G’ force, but without making us all feel ill.
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