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The first "scream machines" were not out-of-control trains but sleds on man-made ice-covered hills constructed of cut lumber and tree trunks. Elaborate constructions often stretching several city blocks, the 50 mile-per-hour rides earned the nickname "Flying Mountains." Children and adults would make the tedious trek up 70 feet (five stories) of stairs and climb into an ice-block sled outfitted with a straw seat. The trip back down lasted little more than a few fleeting seconds.

Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway

Whereas the Russian Mountains is usually credited as the first wheeled coaster, the Switchback in 1784 at St. Petersburg is perhaps more worthy of the crown. Carriages in grooved tracks traveled up and down small hills powered by the height and slope of the initial descent. Almost 50 years later, the first tracks were laid for the American predecessor of the roller coaster, the Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway in Pennsylvania.

Coney Island

It began in 1884, when La Marcus Thompson, the "Father of the Gravity Ride," opened a 600-foot switchback railway at Coney Island. With a top speed of six miles per hour, Thompson's ride was little more than a leisurely, gravity-powered tour of the beach. Still, its popularity enabled him to recoup his $1,600 investment in only three weeks.

Within a few months, however, Thompson's monopoly on Coney Island coasters was over. Charles Alcoke also built a slow scenic railway, connecting the ends of the track in a continuous loop in order to return riders to their starting position. Although the Alcoke coaster raised the bar, challenging the attendance records of Thompson's Switchback Railway, it was Phillip Hinkle's 1885 technological advancement that gave the whole industry a lift. The Hinkle coaster was elliptical and featured a powered hoist that pulled cars to the top of the first hill, making it a far more exciting ride than the slow-moving Switchback.


The first roller coaster actually built in the United States appeared at Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York in 1884. It was built by LaMarcus Thompson, and called the Gravity Pleasure Switchback Railway. Thompson's ride incorporated flat steel track nailed onto several layers of wooden planks. Two 45 foot towers were connected with track. The ride reached a top speed of 6 miles per hour, and the train cars had to be manually towed to the top of the hills at the beginning of both tracks; the patrons were required to get out at the end of the first track and climb stairs to the second hill to board the train again for the return trip. Despite this exercise requirement and at only five cents per ride, the Gravity Pleasure Switchback repaid Thompson's capital investment in less than three weeks. LaMarcus Thompson went on to build 24 more roller coasters.

The mild nature of this beginning prompted the patent office to name the rides "Pleasure Railways," a name that persists there (and nowhere else) to this day. Later in 1884, Charles Alcoke designed a coaster with a continuous track, so that the ride ended where it began. In 1885, Phillip Hinckle used a mechanical hoist to raise the cars to the top of the hill, rather than towing them manually. As early as 1895, designers were experimenting with loops.


Positive G's

When riding a roller coaster, riders will sometimes feel very heavy in their seats. This is caused be positive G's. Positive G's occur at the bottom of most hills, and depend on how fast the coaster levels off. One G is the pull of normal gravity.

Negative G's

Negative G forces are the opposite of positive G's. These occur when cresting a hill on a roller coaster. Anything below one G is considered a negative G. At zero G's it is weightless ness. This occurs because on the uphill, you are still going up, while the train is trying to go down. This creates the common 'butt out of seat' thing.

Lateral G's

A lateral G is the force that pushes the riders to the side. Lateral G's occur when the roller coaster is in a corner. Your body is going straight, but the coaster is turning. Banking the



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