A roller coaster is a type of amusement ride that employs a form of elevated railroad track designed with tight turns, steep slopes, and sometimes inversions.
It is found in amusement parks and theme parks around the world.
At first glance, connected roller coaster cars look much like a passenger train. But unlike a train, it is not powered by a motor, but by gravity and momentum. To build up the ride’s momentum it must first climb the first hill (or lift hill) by use of a lifting mechanism called a chain lift. The lift usually consists of one or more chains running under the track. The chain is fastened in a loop and wound around a motor-powered gear at both ends of the hill. The motor turns the chain loop, propelling the coaster train up the hill like a conveyor belt. The cars are attached to the chain by several hinged hooks called chain dogs. In recent designs, the use of catapult-launching techniques is sometimes implemented.
There are two main types of roller coasters, mainly distinguished by their track structure, wooden roller coasters and steel roller coasters. Wooden roller coasters are coasters with tracks made out of wood and are made similar to traditional railroad tracks. Steel roller coasters, on the other hand, have a much more flexible design and can greatly expand the range of motion.
The oldest roller coasters descended from the so-called “Russian Mountains,”. These were specially constructed hills of ice located especially around Saint Petersburg, Russia. Built in the 17th century, the slides became popular with the Russian upper class. Catherine II of Russia was such a fan of these attractions that she had a few of these slides built on her own property.
The first modern roller coaster, the Promenades Aeriennes, opened in Parc Beaujon in Paris on July 8, 1817. It featured wheeled cars securely locked to the track, guide rails to keep them on course, and higher speeds. It spawned half a dozen imitators, but their popularity soon declined.
On June 16, 1884, the first roller coaster in America opens at Coney Island, in Brooklyn, New York. Known as a switchback railway, it was the brainchild of LaMarcus Thompson, traveled approximately six miles per hour and cost a nickel to ride. The new entertainment was an instant success and by the turn of the century there were hundreds of roller coasters around the country.
In 1887 Spanish entrepreneur Joseph Oller, co-founder of the Moulin Rouge music hall, constructed the Montagnes Russes de Belleville, “Russian Mountains of Belleville” with 200 m (656 feet) of track laid out in a double-eight, later enlarged to four figure-eight-shaped loops.
By 1919, the first underfriction roller coaster had been developed by John Miller. Soon, roller coasters spread to amusement parks all around the world. Perhaps the best known historical roller coaster, Cyclone, was opened at Coney Island in 1927.
The Great Depression marked the end of the golden age of roller coasters, and theme parks, in general, went into decline. This lasted until 1972 when the instant success of The Racer at Kings Island began a roller coaster renaissance which has continued to this day.
In 1956 French showmen Baudrier & Drouet introduced a steel rollercoaster on Foire du Throne in Paris. This steel portable rollercoaster used a triangular track and the gondolas used guide- and upstop- wheels
on the outside if this track.
In 1975 the first modern-day roller coaster to perform an inverting element opened: Corkscrew, located at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California.
In 1976 the vertical loop made a permanent comeback with the Great American Revolution at Magic Mountain in Valencia, California.
The Formula Rossa at Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi, UAE, can accelerate up to 240 km/h (149.1 mph) in just 4.9 seconds. It opened to the public on Nov. 4, 2010. Formula Rossa accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in just 2 seconds, and races over a track length of 2.07 km (1.28 mi), impressing even an F1 star like Fernando Alonso above.
When riding Full Throttle, the steel roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California, riders experience the world’s tallest loop at 38.75 m (127.13 ft). The total ride lasts 1 min 30 sec.
The most track inversions in a roller coaster is 14 on The Smiler at Alton Towers Resort in Staffordshire, UK. Riders whirl through the 14 inversions at speeds of up to 85 km/h (52.82 mph), with the highest drop reaching 30 m (98.43 ft). In total, the ride lasts 165 seconds as riders travel along a 1.17 Km (3,839 ft) track.
Representing the old school, Colossos at Heide-Park Soltau in Lower Saxony, Germany, is the tallest operating wooden coaster at 60 m (196 ft 10 in) high.
Speaking of oldies but goodies, The Scenic Railway at Luna Park in Melbourne opened to the public on Dec. 13, 1912, and has remained in operation ever since. This traditional wooden coaster was designed by the American La Marcus Adna Thompson, who is now regarded as the “father of the modern roller coaster.”
Richard Rodriguez (USA) rode the Pepsi Max Big One and Big Dipper roller coasters at Pleasure Beach in Blackpool, UK for 405 hr 40 min from July 27 to Aug. 13, 2007. A noted coaster fanatic, Rodriguez has held this very record on three separate occasions.
The longest roller coaster of all is currently Steel Dragon 2000, which opened in Nagashima Spa Land amusement park in Nagashima, Kuwana, Mie, Japan, on Aug. 1, 2000. It spans a lengthy 2.48 km (1.54 mi).
In the United States, approximately three hundred million people ride roller coasters every year.