The First Roller Coaster


On June 16, 1884, the first roller coaster opened in New York City’s Coney Island Amusement Park. It was LaMarcus Adna Thompson’s “Switchback Railway,” opening 133 years ago today.

This was the first roller coaster designed as an amusement park ride in America. It was designed by Mr. Thompson in 1881 and constructed in 1884. It appears Thompson based his design, at least in part, on the Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway which was a coal-mining train that had started carrying passengers as a thrill ride in 1827.

For five cents, riders would climb a tower to board the large bench-like car and were pushed off to coast 600 feet down the track to another level. The car went just over six miles per hour. At the top of the other tower the vehicle was switched to a return track or “switched back” (hence the name).

This track design was soon replaced with an oval complete-circuit ride designed by Charles Alcoke and called the Serpentine Railway. In 1885, Phillip Hinkle developed a lift system which appeared in his ride called Gravity Pleasure. The Gravity Pleasure also featured cars in which passengers could face forward instead of in the awkward bench-like seats of the first two roller coasters.

Now, I’m not a fan of roller coasters. It’s not because I’m afraid of heights. I’m afraid of falling.

But roller coasters are a good example of the Christian life. Life ends where it started – with God. There are lots of crazy, unexpected turns, and there are often moments of sudden darkness, followed by light. Life is full of ups and downs. And once aboard the roller coaster of life, we are no longer in control.

That’s the other reason I don’t like roller coasters.


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