It’s National Rollercoaster Day, because the first patent for a wooden coaster was received in this day in 1872.
There have probably been version of thrill rides since whenever it was that humans first figured out the concept of ramps, but we can trace at least one key ancestor of the roller coaster to 15th century Russia, where people would ride ice blocks down big wooden ramps, which was dangerous and exciting at once. In some parts of the world roller coasters are still called “Russian Mountains.”
In the 18th century, French designers realized that if they replaced the ice blocks with wheeled carts, they could have these rides year-round, and to keep them from derailing they locked the wheels into tracks.
The earliest coaster-like rides in the US came in the 1800s. Railways that carried coal during the day became tourist attractions after work.
And by the end of the century, we had all the elements of modern roller coasters: carts on tracks designed to give riders some exhilarating ups and downs, and even some loops.
The Great Depression and World War II were unsurprisingly down years for roller coasters, but in the 1950s there was a roller coaster resurgence, in no small part due to a guy called Walt DIsney and his now-iconic land.
And over time the coasters have gotten wilder and wilder, including the jaw-dropping Thunder Dolphin in Tokyo, which takes riders through the center of a massive Ferris wheel.
That’s not even getting into the world of virtual rollercoasters, like the one created in the video game RollerCoaster Tycoon by designer Marcel Vos. He put together a long and convoluted coaster that when the virtual people in the game go for a ride, they’re stuck on there for twelve years. So I don’t see a real-world version of that design coming anytime soon.
From Death Traps to Disneyland: The 600-Year History of the Roller Coaster (Popular Mechanics)
Ups and downs: The history of roller coasters (USA Today)
Crazy Roller Coasters (Travel Channel)
Roller coaster photo by eric lynch via Flickr/Creative Commons