Guess What? The First Roller Coaster in America Wasn’t Actually a Roller Coaster
It didn’t even carry people!
The anticipation as you wait in line, the rush of adrenaline on that initial climb, the thrill once you finally plummet onto the twisting tracks—it’s pretty clear why roller coasters are the reason some people become adrenaline junkies. (I, on the other hand, fell in love with skydiving before embracing the coaster life.)
If you enjoy riding coasters of any shape, size, or level of intensity, thank coal miners. They were responsible for the first roller coaster without even knowing it.
In 1827, the U.S.’s second permanent railroad, the Mauch Chunk and Summit Railroad, opened in eastern Pennsylvania. This nine-mile railway was used to carry coal that miners dug out of the mountains, relying on gravity to bring cars safely to the bottom of the track and work animals to drag the cars back to the top.
It proved extremely effective for miners—and looked extremely fun to everyone else. Soon, the railway offered pleasure rides to onlookers who admired this relatively new technology, which is why it’s considered the country’s first roller coaster.
But the Mauch Chunk Railway’s impact on American amusement parks doesn’t end there. One of the people who rode the railway was LaMarcus Adna Thompson. He saw an opportunity to capitalize on his and other’s enjoyment and turn it into business venture. Using the designs of inventor Richard Knudson, he built the Gravity Pleasure Switchback Railway at Coney Island, America’s first official roller coaster.
It featured two parallel tracks descending in opposite directions. Once riders reached the end of one track, they walked up the second tower to go down the other track. Despite it only lasting a minute at a top speed of 6 mph, the Switchback Railway raked in an average of $600 per day. Thompson went on to build more than 50 roller coasters over the next four years.
So next time you’re looking to pay homage to the Father of the American Roller Coaster, make the most of your time with our amusement park secrets to avoid crowds and save money.