With names like Venom, The Dark Knight and Goliath, roller coasters have become the ultimate amusement park thrill ride. Their steel loops, curves and inversions take riders through one nausea-and-scream-inducing episode after another. It wasn’t always like that, though. There was a time in America when the venerable wooden roller coaster was the biggest thrill around.
Roller coasters have actually been around for quite a while. They date to the late 19th century. Some of the oldest roller coasters still standing date from about 1902.
The competition to be one of the oldest coasters has been fierce at times. Some of the oldest coasters no longer exist, however. They were torn down years ago.
The oldest roller coaster in the world is Leap the Dips, built in 1902. It stands in Lakemont Park in Altoona, Pennsylvania. It stood unused for several years, but has been completely restored and reopened in 1999. Its wooden track is 1,452 feet long (442.6 meters) and 48 feet tall (14.6 meters), and it has a drop of nine feet (3 meters). Roller coasters were a risky business in the early days, and those who designed the oldest rides were sometimes taking a chance with their entire fortunes.
Among the other oldest roller coasters, the oldest one outside the U.S. is Rutschebahnen, in Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark. This example was built in 1913 and is still running. One of the most famous wooden coasters is the Cyclone at Coney Island, New York. The Cyclone opened in 1927, making it certainly one of the oldest roller coasters still in operation.
Times changed, though, and with those changes came the innovation of the steel roller coaster. The steel tracks and cars allowed for more varied track designs. The granddaddy of the steel coaster is the Matterhorn at Disneyland in California. Built in 1959, it caused a sensation when it opened.
Space Mountain, an indoor steel coaster at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, opened in 1975. It was the first completely enclosed roller coaster. Other parks followed suit, and soon, people clamored for a steel coaster in every theme park.
Wooden coasters are still popular, particularly for roller coaster purists. They are still being built, albeit with better materials than 100 years ago. The oldest roller coasters are part of history, however, and organizations to preserve them are becoming ever more popular.