Today in History - February 5, 1901 -the loop-the-loop roller coaster ride was patented. Building on concepts from earlier vertical loop roller coasters (1850′s) this design relied on centripetal forces to hold the car in the loop while traveling at high speeds. Edward Prescot patented and build the Loop-the-Loop of steel in Coney Island (upper left photo). Ironically, Coney Island’s original gravity switchback railroad (see next paragraph) burned down in 1901, making way for the loop-the-loop. At the time, more people watched than dared to actually ride the looping roller coaster. They made more money charging to be in the viewing area than on the actual ride fees.
On December 22, 1885, LaMarcus Thompson patented the first Gravity Switchback Railway roller coaster (center photo above). It was also built at Coney Island and became the precursor to the modern roller coaster. At the top of one platform, riders climbed into cars and then rode them down a 600 foot track and up to another tower, where they were switched to another track. Thompson’s installation at Coney Island was also a business innovation a it was one of the first “pay per ride”, offering people a short escape from the real world to enjoy themselves for a short thrill. This started a tradition and business model that forms the basis for today’s theme and amusement parks.
Loved working with M.S. student Tim Jacobi who did his thesis on his idea for a roller coaster ride; a version of which was tested and built. Read more about Tim and the “Thrill Ride”.
See the Engineering Pathway’s resources on theme parks and roller coaster design. For curricular resources, visit the Mechanical Engineering Education, the Engineering Mechanics Education or the Engineering Management Education community sites.