August 16th marks National Roller Coaster Day, a festive celebration for coaster enthusiasts everywhere. Did you know that roller coasters in America date back to the 1880s, and the Switchback Railway on New York’s Coney Island is often considered the first major coaster to be constructed in the country? Back then, the rides were slow and bumpy, but ultimately, enchanting, as riders had never seen such technology.
These days, roller coasters are launched straight into the air, go through loops, and even have cars that can rotate. We’ve come a long way in coaster design, but how many of us actually know the coasters that changed history and made the modern era possible? Here are five roller coasters that have left their mark on the world. How many have you been on?
Lake Compounce, Connecticut
Lake Compounce was opened in 1846 and is America’s oldest operating amusement park. To put that into perspective for you, the park was opened almost 20 years before the Civil War. The centerpiece of the park is their WildCat roller coaster, which is one of the oldest continually operating coasters in the entire world, being built all the way back in 1927.
The wooden coaster tops out at 44 mph. (not bad for a ride built almost 100 years ago) and helped popularize modern roller coasters in America. Today, riders can still enjoy the rickety, bounce-around fun of the WildCat, which is seen as a prized quality by coaster enthusiasts as it means you’re riding a coaster built in the era before steel-tube tracking.
Disneyland was like no other theme park before it. While other parks kept looking to simply add more coasters, Disney focused on unique coasters. In 1959, the Matterhorn Bobsleds debuted in California. The coaster actually consists of two separate tracks offering two different experiences (some even say it’s two roller coasters). When it opened, it was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before.
Nobody had ever experienced a coaster where the theming was such an integral part of the ride. It was a roller coaster built inside a replica of the Matterhorn from Switzerland. Furthermore, it was the first roller coaster to use a steel-tube track, which is now commonplace for all steel coasters and even many wooden coasters. But most importantly, the Matterhorn Bobsleds proved that Disneyland was about to be one of the world’s most magical destinations. Since then, Disney has opened parks in five other cities around the globe.
The New Revolution
Six Flags Magic Mountain
Does this roller coaster look familiar to you? If so, you’re not alone. Six Flags Magic Mountain is located just north of LA, making it a favorite amongst the nearby film industry. The New Revolution (then simply called Revolution) was featured as part of “Walley World” in National Lampoon’s Vacation, as well as the 1977 thriller, Rollercoaster.
But beyond the coaster’s Hollywood fame, it’s famous for something much greater – the loop. Revolution opened in 1976 and was the first modern coaster to go upside down. Looping coasters had been attempted before the 70s, but the loops were usually in a circular shape, which tended to be hard on the human body. Revolution used a clothoid loop that has more of an egg-like or oval shape. This proved to be much easier on riders, creating a thrilling experience, rather than a painful one. For anyone who has ever gone upside down on a roller coaster, you can thank The New Revolution.
Say “Sandusky, Ohio” to the average person, and they’ll likely give you a blank stare. Say “Sandusky, Ohio” to a coaster enthusiast and you’ll instantly watch their eyes grow wide and a smile come across their face. That’s because this unassuming lake town is home to one of the most famous theme parks on the planet – Cedar Point. For decades, Cedar Point has hauled in awards and famous-firsts for the fastest coasters, tallest coasters, most inversions on a coaster, and more.
One of the most prominent examples of this is Cedar Point’s 1989 masterpiece, the Magnum XL-200. When the coaster debuted, it was the tallest, fastest, longest, and steepest roller coaster on the planet. Soon, theme parks around the world began clamoring to take back some of the titles that the Magnum now held. This is now called the “Roller Coaster Wars“. The Magnum even created to a new term: Hypercoaster, meaning a roller coaster that’s taller than 200 ft. In 1998, the Golden Ticket Awards were created to honor the best coasters on the planet and rank rider’s favorite roller coasters. Since the rankings were started in ’98, the Magnum has never left the Top 25 list.
Six Flags Great Adventure
The current record-holder for the tallest coaster in the world is Kingda Ka. It opened back in 2005 and has held the title for more than 15 years. It’s the prime attraction at Six Flags Great Adventure, which is located in New Jersey between Philidelphia and New York City. The coaster reaches a height of 456 feet, that’s the equivalent of a 45-story building! To reach such heights, the coaster needs to be fast. After boarding, Kingda Ka launches riders from 0-128 mph. in just 3.5 seconds.
For those who are already anxious, listen to this: Because Kingda Ka launches riders straight up, sometimes the weight of the car isn’t calibrated properly due to being too heavy or too light, depending on the weight of the riders. This means that on occasion, riders experience what’s called a “rollback“, meaning the coaster shoots the car up the hill, but it doesn’t quite have the speed to go over the top, and so it falls back down, letting riders have a backwards freefall back towards the ground. While this may seem horrifying to the average person, it’s considered a rite of passage for coaster enthusiasts (plus, if it happens, you get to be shot right back up again, so it’s like two rides in one!)
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