This Week in History – Coney Island’s Coaster

On June 16, 1884, a thrill like none other opens to the public at Coney Island. Back then it was called a switchback railway, but we know it today as the first successful American roller coaster.

First Roller CoasterFirst Roller Coaster Thu, Nov 6, 1919 – 7 · The Mullinville News (Mullinville, Kansas) · Newspapers.com

The roller coaster was the concept of inventor and businessman LaMarcus Thompson, and earned him the nickname “Father of the American Roller Coaster.”

LaMarcus Thompson's ideaLaMarcus Thompson’s idea Sat, Jun 23, 1984 – Page 43 · Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York) · Newspapers.com

The coaster never went more than 6 mph—a good thing, since the invention of wheels that actually connected to the track was still a few years away—and drops were minimal. But the roller coaster was such a novelty that it found massive success with the crowds that regularly flocked to Coney Island.

They FreakedThey Freaked Sun, Jun 17, 1984 – 8 · Daily News (New York, New York) · Newspapers.com

It may not seem like much to us now, but it was only the beginning. We have the gentle ups and downs of that original “switchback railway” to thank for the the twisting, turning, stomach-churning rides we know and love—or hate—today.

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