Catch a thrill in June with the anniversary of the roller coaster
What: Not many forms of entertainment are designed specifically to elicit shrieks. But a steady din of happily terrified riders’ screams is the sign of an exciting roller coaster. The main attraction for most amusement parks, coasters have been thrilling riders for more than a century. At first simple track rides, today’s coasters have grown elaborate with multiple loops, frightening drops, and wild speeds. Recognize the first roller coaster as a landmark in both amusement and engineering during its anniversary this June.
Background: The first gravity-powered roller coaster opened on June 13, 1884, at Coney Island in New York. The “Gravity Pleasure Switchback Railway” was designed by inventor LaMarcus Adna Thompson and quickly became a huge sensation. The ride, speeding along at six miles per hour, cost five cents and went approximately 600 feet, starting at a height of 50 feet. The coaster had its origins in 17th-century Russian ice slides, a unique setup that sent thrill seekers careening down a giant iced wooden track on sleds. By the middle of the 18th century, carts-on-tracks were becoming popular, though leisurely, rides in Europe. Meanwhile in the U.S., coal mining companies began selling tickets to ride their downhill coal-car tracks for a quick thrill. Thompson’s coaster was inspired by these rides, and was the first built specifically to amuse riders. Victorians soon realized the need for speed, and roller coasters boomed as a huge fad, until the Great Depression and World War II cut into American budgets. Modern engineering has led to wilder rides, and roller coasters grew in popularity during the 1980s and 90s, when several amusement parks opened bigger, faster rides.
Story Pitch: The anniversary of the roller coaster is an important milestone in the amusement industry and modern engineering. Amusement and theme parks can promote rides inspired by the classic wooden coasters, as well as their scariest modern rides. Boardwalks dating back to the era of Victorian coasters can share the story of their rides and how the amusements impacted the history of the area. In addition, they can also talk about the steps taken to preserve vintage roller coasters. Engineering associations can use the anniversary to discuss how roller coasters are a modern marvel, and touch on the engineering involved with designing new rides, including ways to make them safe.
Story Hook: The world’s fastest roller coaster, Formula Rossa, opened in November 2010 at the Ferrari World theme park in Abu Dhabi. Reaching speeds of 150 miles per hour, designing the ride tested the capabilities of engineering. What other thrilling designs are roller coaster engineers working on? What new technologies are making coasters more exciting? How do designers work within the limits of physics and human physiology? Consider the following as you make your pitch:
- How safe are today’s roller coasters? Who regulates their safety?
- What are the most popular coasters in the U.S.? What are the oldest still operating?
- How have roller coasters shaped modern amusement parks?
- Roller coaster enthusiasts are a passionate group. What drives coaster lovers to the newest, wildest ride? What’s the psychology behind the thrill-seeking?
Tips: Provide contact information for a roller coaster designer or engineer who can talk about what goes into designing the latest coasters. An enthusiast who has ridden coasters throughout the country is also a great contact who can impart the excitement of the rides.
American Coaster Enthusiasts
International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions
National Amusement Park Historical Association
National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials
–Researched, compiled & written by Kristina Elliott
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