Thrill-seekers worldwide enjoy the breath-taking speeds, twists, flips and turns of roller coasters of all sizes; the result of centuries of technological advances and design improvements. Although the first rudimentary roller coasters were built on Russian hills of ice, modern coasters include a variety of building materials, themes and design features.
The original roller coaster dates back to 18th century Russia when riders sailed down icy slides on the slopes of St. Petersburg mountains, reports PBS in, "A Century of Screams: The History of the Roller Coaster." Catherine the Great boosted the early coaster's appeal by outfitting her imperial sleigh with wheels and enjoying the thrill of gliding down the mountainside. The idea for the coaster soon spread, with the French adopting the Russians' initial design. By incorporating tracks with grooves into the ramps, the French relied on rolling benches to transport adventurers down the steep slopes.
19th Century Advances
During the 1820s, American coal miners designed a track system for transporting mules down the mountains. Over the next few decades, a track for returning to the original starting place was also created. Eventually, the coal miners' invention became obsolete when the mining industry expanded far enough that the tracks were not needed. By 1870, their transportation system was converted to an amusement attraction for tourists, known as The Scenic Railway. This led to the creation of a set of parallel tracks laid at various heights, allowing a railway car to travel quickly and cover large distances, according to PBS.
First Official Coasters
The first patented roller coaster debuted in 1898, designed by American inventor Edwin Prescott. Capable of carrying only four riders, the “Loop-the-Loop” roller coaster, in Coney Island, New York, drew not only paying riders, but crowds of spectators willing to pay to watch the coaster in action, reports an article published in England’s ''Evening Gazette'' in August 2013. This coaster quickly proved to be popular, leading others to join in on the trend. New versions sprung up throughout the early 1900s, as "Carnegie Magazine" reports in, "Scream Machines: the Science of Roller Coasters." By the 1920s, there were more than 1,500 roller coasters in the United States, states PBS.
Modern Roller Coasters
Evolving and improving in speed, materials, safety and design, coasters continue to amuse riders. According to the ''Evening Gazette,'' there are now more than 2,500 coasters worldwide, generally in amusement parks or other entertainment venues. Some of the more extensive coasters feature deep plunges, thrilling designs and extensive track length. Early in the 21st century, Gino De-Gol incorporated robotics into the roller coaster industry, according a 2009 article published in ''Focus Science and Technology.'' De-Gol predicts future coasters might feature various technological advances including heart rate monitoring, allowing for individualized riding experiences such as stable coaster car for high-anxiety riders.
- PBS: A Century of Screams: The History of the Roller Coaster
- Evening Gazette: You're Smarter for 10; Roller Coasters Have Been Providing White Knuckle Thrills for 115 Years. Marion McMullen Looks at the Ups and Downs of the Top Theme Park Attractions
- Focus: The Thrill Engineers
- Carnegie Magazine: Scream Machines: The Science of the Roller Coaster
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images