Ever since their first appearance in the earlier decades of the 19th century, roller coasters have been raising the bar at a rapid pace. The humble mini-train poking along on wooden tracks has been transformed into an insane collection of massive, fast-flying thrill rides that make even the most daring take a deep breath before locking in. Roller coaster production isn’t slowing down soon. Get to know the fascinating ups and downs of roller coaster history before taking your family to the theme park this summer with these 12 super-fast facts.
- Roller coasters were inspired in part by “gravity railroads” mining companies used to deliver coal downhill to locations many miles away. The earliest thrill-seekers paid to ride with the goods.
- The most direct inspiration for the modern roller coaster comes from France, where rides consisting of small trains on wooden tracks were built for amusement, and daring loops intrigued daredevils.
- In Paris, in the middle of the 19th century, “centrifugal coasters” appeared. These consisted of a long drop to gather speed, with a full loop in the center that guided the car around using centrifugal force.
- The earliest “looping coasters” were known for being especially dangerous. Many caused whiplash.
- The first official “scenic” roller coaster opened in 1884 on the now famous peninsula of Coney Island in Brooklyn. Slower, safe and popular, it guided riders through passageways and painted scenes.
- Coney Island outdid itself with The Cyclone in 1927, a wooden roller coaster that still operates today.
- After the Great Depression, amusement parks declined for decades. Roller coasters nearly fell off the map until an upswing in the economy paved the way for Americans to enjoy theme parks again.
- Disneyland set up shop in the mid-fifties in California. Its main attraction: the Matterhorn Bobsleds.
- There are nearly 900 roller coasters currently operating in North America. That’s less than half of the roller coasters operating in Asia, and still less than the total number currently operating in Europe.
- The tallest roller coaster in the world is Kingda Ka at Six Flags in New Jersey. At 456 ft. tall, the giant roller coaster also boasts the longest free-falling drop in the world, kicking off with a 418-ft. drop.
- While Kingda Ka is also the fastest roller coaster in the United States, it comes in second in the world rankings to Formula Rossa at Ferrari World in the United Arab Emirates. Rossa tops out at 149 mph.
- The fan-voted best theme park for roller coasters in America backs up Cedar Point’s claim that it’s the “Roller Coaster Capital of the World.” However, many thrill-seekers say Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey has a higher concentration of the best roller coasters in the world, including Kingda Ka.
Before you think about setting off on your theme park adventure, make sure you’ve got all the gear you need to enjoy a flawless vacation. Shop luggage, totes, apparel, electronics and so much more for your family trip.