It continues!

“C’mon, Mike,” you might be saying. “Don’t you have anything more relevant to write about?” Well…yeah. But the date of June 16, which landed eight days ago, got stuck in my brain last week for reasons other than Father’s Day.

It so happens, on June 16, the year of our Lord 1884, America began its love affair with roller coasters. On that fine June 16, the first roller coaster in America built for the purpose of amusement opened at Coney Island, in Brooklyn, New York.

“The Switchback Railway” at Coney Island

The nation was on the cusp of another deep love affair four years hence, this one with what they called the “safety” bicycle. (Because it most resembled the bike we’re all familiar with today. No oversized wheels, less likely to crash.) Within a decade several million bicycles would be sold each year, a fad stymied by another huge get-away invention—the automobile.

“If one looks at the United States from one ocean to the other in July and August, he will see millions of people at play—people of every social and financial gradation; for few are so poor as not to take at least a short vacation.” – Library of Congress, 1902
The point is, Americans were all in for having fun at the dawn of the 20thcentury, and new modes of transportation gave them more freedom to do so.

They flooded to urban parks and beaches, began exercising to lessen anxiety stress, and flocked to resorts and spectator sports venues—all part of the dramatic rise in leisure activities to counter the stress and anxiety of an evolving urban, mechanized society. Motion pictures, vaudeville, and dance halls helped to satisfy the hunger for entertainment.

So…back to the roller coaster.

“Even with all of its shortcomings, the ride (The Switchback Railway at Coney Island) was immensely popular and reportedly paid for itself during its first month of operation,” according to the Western Reserve Historical Society.

The ride was the brainchild of LaMarcus Thompson, according to, who went on to build an amusement empire called L.A. Thompson Scenic Railway Company. The roller coaster went six miles per hour and cost a nickel to ride.

It consisted of two sets of parallel tracks descending in opposite directions from elevated towers, as the Western Reserve Historical Society describes it.

“To complete their round trip, riders had to get out of their cars after they came to a stop and ascend a second 50-foot tower to board cars to head back.”

( also notes that three amusement parks sprang up at Coney Island between 1897 and 1904: Dreamland, Luna Park, and Steeplechase. By the 1920s, summer crowds could take the subway to Coney, where they enjoyed rides, games, sideshows, the beach, and the 2.5-mile boardwalk completed in 1923.)

Has roller coaster mania subsided since those bygone days? Not by a long-shot, it seems.

Kids, as you can see in the next photo, still love the thrills, ever more intense than the sensations experienced by the first Coney Island riders.

From a current list of some of the best roller coaster parks in the U.S., based on rides and attractions, foods and desserts, themes, and ease of park visit:

  1. Universal Studios/Orlando, Florida
  2. Disneyland/Anaheim, California
  3. Cedar Point/Sandusky, Ohio (Hmm…never heard of this one.)
  4. Busch Gardens/Williamsburg, Virginia

And finally…fun facts about the best roller coaster parks in the world:

What’s the fastest and tallest roller coaster? Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey. It clocks at 125 mph in just over 3 seconds. (Yikes! I’ll skip, thank you very much.)

Which park has the most roller coasters? California’s Six Flags Magic Mountain boasts a mind-boggling 20 total roller coasters within its park.

Well…there you have it.

I won’t be going on one anytime soon! But people all across America still love them, maybe even more than ever.