On this day in history, June 16, 1884, first American roller coaster opens at Coney Island

On this day in history, June 16, 1884, first American roller coaster opens at Coney Island

On this day in history, June 16, 1884, the first roller coaster in America opened at Coney Island, in Brooklyn, New York.

The ride, known as the Switchback Railway, was the creation of LaMarcus Thompson, according to History.com.

The coaster traveled about six miles per hour and cost only a nickel to ride, according to the nonprofit Coney Island History Project. The coaster took passengers along West Tenth Street from Surf Avenue to the ocean, says the same source.

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The rollercoaster did not make a round trip loop. The ride consisted of two sets of parallel tracks descending in opposite directions from elevated towers, as the Western Reserve Historical Society described 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," said the same source.

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coney island rollercoaster
On June 16, 1884, the first roller coaster in America built for the purpose of amusement opened at Coney Island, in Brooklyn, New York. "Even with all of its shortcomings, the ride was immensely popular and reportedly paid for itself during its first month of operation."

"The Switchback Railway that debuted at Coney Island on June 16, 1884, holds the distinction of being the first roller coaster-type ride designed and built for the purpose of amusement, rather than an existing rail line converted for that purpose," the Western Reserve Historical Society also noted.

"Even with all of its shortcomings, the ride was immensely popular and reportedly paid for itself during its first month of operation."

Following the success at Coney Island, ride creator Thompson then founded an amusement empire called the L.A. Thompson Scenic Railway Company.

It manufactured classic roller coasters and an assortment of other rides for amusement parks all over the world, according to the Coney Island History Project.

Coney Island’s first hotel had opened in 1829 — and by the post-Civil War years, the area was an established resort with theaters, restaurants and a racetrack, History.com noted.

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"Between 1897 and 1904, three amusement parks sprang up at Coney Island: Dreamland, Luna Park and Steeplechase," added History.com.

By the 1920s, Coney Island could be accessed by subway. Summer crowds flocked there for rides, games, sideshows, the beach and the two-and-a-half-mile boardwalk that was completed in 1923, notes History.com.

The hot dog reportedly was invented at Coney Island in 1867 by Charles Feltman.

Hot dogs with mustard
Nathan’s is famous today not only for its hot dogs but for its hot dog-eating contest — held on Coney Island in Brooklyn every July 4th.

"In 1916, a hot dog stand called Nathan’s was opened by a former Feltman employee and went on to become a Coney Island institution and international franchise," said the same source.

"Today, Nathan’s is famous not only for its hot dogs but its hot dog-eating contest, held each Fourth of July in Coney Island."

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By the 1920s Coney Island had lost much of its special allure, according to PBS.

"This was partly because of the advent of movies and radio, partly because it was too expensive to maintain at its original level of magnificence, and partly, perhaps, because it was widely imitated in other cities around the country and the world," the same source noted.

In 1927, another iconic coaster, the Cyclone — a wooden roller coaster located at Luna Park in Coney Island — opened.

The "Cyclone reaches a maximum speed of 60 miles per hour, carries 24 passengers, and boasts a total track length of 2,640 feet," says the Luna Park NYC website.

"Highlighted in major films, music videos and works of art, the Cyclone is a cultural phenomenon and one of Brooklyn’s most iconic sites to visit," says the same site.

In the spring of 1972, it was announced the Cyclone would have been removed to make way for expansion of an aquarium — but due to a "Save the Cyclone" campaign, the closure was canceled and the coaster reopened in 1975, according to Coasterpedia.

Designated a New York City Landmark in 1988 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991, the Cyclone is acclaimed around the globe to this day and celebrated as one of the most famous roller coasters in the world, according to multiple sources.

Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest
Contestants compete to see who can eat the most hot dogs during Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island on July 4, 2022.

Capable of speeds of 60 mph and with an 85-foot drop, the Cyclone is one of the country’s oldest coasters in operation today, according to History.com.

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Today, Coney Island boasts an aquarium, amusement rides, restaurants, shops and much more.

From roller coasters to go-karts, to live entertainment and boardwalk games, beachfront Coney Island has something for everyone, according to the Coney Island Fun Guide.

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By the mid-1960s, the major amusement parks at Coney Island had shut down and the area acquired a "seedy" image, the same site said.

Yet in recent decades, it has been revitalized and remains a popular tourist attraction.

And it's still home to the Cyclone.


Original article source: On this day in history, June 16, 1884, first American roller coaster opens at Coney Island

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