Origins of the Roller Coaster

Engineering and technology involved in modern roller coasters far exceeds original designs.
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Thrill-seekers worldwide enjoy the breath-taking speeds, twists, flips and turns of roller coasters of all sizes. The roller coaster invention isn't new though; it is the result of centuries of technological advances and design improvements. Although the first rudimentary coasters were created on Russian ice hills, modern coasters now include a variety of building materials, themes and design features.

1 Early Roller Coaster Designs

The original roller coaster dates back to 18th century Russia when riders sailed down icy slides on the slopes of St. Petersburg mountains. Catherine the Great boosted the early coaster's appeal by outfitting her imperial sleigh with wheels to enjoy 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.

2 19th Century Roller Coasters

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.

3 First Roller Coaster Patents

The first roller coaster patents created the roller coaster debuting in 1898 and was 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 simply watch the coaster in action. This coaster quickly proved to be popular leading other designers and cities to join in on the trend. New versions sprung up throughout the early 1900s. There were more than 1,500 roller coasters in the United States by the 1920s.

4 Modern Roller Coasters

Centuries after the first roller coaster invention, coasters have evolved and improved in speed, materials, safety and design. Modern roller coasters continue to amuse and thrill riders. 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. In the early 21st century, Gino De-Gol incorporated robotics into the roller coaster industry. De-Gol predicts future coasters might feature various technological advances including heart rate monitoring, allowing for individualized riding experiences like a stable coaster car for high-anxiety riders.

Amy Pearson earned dual bachelor's degrees in management and horticulture. She is a licensed elementary teacher for kindergarten through sixth grades. Pearson specializes in flower and vegetable gardening, landscape design, education, early childhood and child development.