Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 26, 2013
The Cyclone

The Cyclone

June 26, 1927: Coney Island opens a new ride. Coney Island is now a peninsula at the southern tip of Brooklyn, New York. Coney Island Creek separated the small island from the mainland. Plans to dredge the creek and use it for a ship canal were changed to filling in the creek and creating a contiguous landmass. The Lenape tribe called the island Narrioch. The Dutch settlers called it Conyne Eylandt – meaning rabbit island. After the Civil War, excursion railroads and streetcar lines reached the island and it was soon a vacation spot. Resorts and amusement parks sprang up.

The first carousel on Coney Island was built in 1876. Live musicians provided music while happy customers whirled in a circle. Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs went on sale there in 1916. Three main amusement parks as well as many smaller ones helped draw several million people to Coney Island each year. In 1920, the Wonder Wheel was opened. The steel frame Ferris wheel had both stationary and rocking cars, held 144 riders, stood 150 feet high and weighed 2,000 tons. It still runs at Deno’s Park. In 1927, the Cyclone opened on this date. It is one of the oldest wooden roller coasters still operating in the US.

Two roller coasters were already operating successfully on Coney Island. Jack and Irving Rosenthal bought a parcel of land with Giant Racer, the first roller coaster built in the US, sitting on it. They tore down the coaster and paid Vernon Keenan $100,000 ($1.2 million today) to design another one. The cost to build the Cyclone has been listed as both $146,000 ($1.7 million today) and $175,000 ($2 million today). The ride cost a quarter to ride when it opened. Adjusting for inflation, that would be $3 today. It cost $8 to ride the coaster in 2008. The ride is 2,640 feet long with a height of 85 feet. Maximum speed reached is 60 mph and the ride lasts 1 minute and 50 seconds.

Roller coasters were based on ice slides constructed in Russia in the 1600s. Who put the wheels on the sleds is lost to history. France led the way with the first ride with cars that were locked to the track. They also created a ride with 2 cars racing each other and one with a complete circuit all in 1817. In 1846, again in France, a looping coaster (but non-circuit) debuted. In 1885, at Coney Island, a powered chain lift coaster opened for business. The coasters continued to get bigger, faster, and higher. They incorporated more inversions, steeper drops, and added extras such as sounds, floorless cars, and propulsions systems.

“Life is a roller coaster, you have your ups and downs unless you fall off.” – unknown

“I went on a children’s roller coaster once when I was maybe 12-or some age when I was considered a little old to be on a kiddy ride. Absolutely terrified. Thought I was going to die.” – Rachael Leigh

“Everybody likes a roller coaster ride.” – Pete Waterman

“Enthusiasm is NOT the same as just being excited. One gets excited about going on a roller coaster. One becomes enthusiastic about creating and building a roller coaster.” – Bo Bennett

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: The Cyclone remains popular even now. There have been three deaths on the ride. The first in 1985 occurred when a 29-year-old man stood up on the ride and hit his head on a crossbeam. The second took place in 1988 when a 26-year-old maintenance worker took a solo ride during his lunch break and stood up as the car began its descent. He fell from the ride and landed 30 feet below on a crossbeam. He died instantly. The last was in 2005 when a 53-year-old man broke several vertebra while riding. He had surgery and died four days later from complications from that. Not all the stories are sad. In 1948, a coal miner with aphonia, the inability to produce vocal sounds, was riding the roller coaster. He had not spoken in years, however, as the cars dropped over the first fall, he said, “I feel sick” and then when the train returned to the station, he fainted after he realized he had spoken.

Also on this day: Helicopters – In 1934, the FW-61 helicopter is flown for the first time.
Pied Piper – In 1284, a piper led 130 children out of Hamelin.
CN Tower – In 1976, the Ontario tower opened to the public.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 20, 2010

Kinga Ka at Six Flags in New Jersey

January 20, 1885: LaMarcus Adna Thompson patents his roller coaster structure. While he did not invent the ride, a distinction which belongs to John G. Taylor, he did have 13 patents on the coasters. Switchback Railway at Coney Island was designed by Thompson and was the first roller coaster built in the US.  He also went on to create Orient Scenic Railway, which was not a thrill ride [maximum speed 6 mph] but rather a ride through beautifully themed spaces. These structures are the premise around which today’s theme parks are based.

The earliest coasters were based on Russian sled rides which were built on constructed hills of ice around St. Petersburg. In the late 1700s entrepreneurs were moving the idea away from the ice and onto tracks using cars with wheels. The first gravity track was built in Paris in 1812. The first loop track was built in 1846, yet these early coasters did not travel in a complete circuit.

Today there is an almost yearly race for biggest, highest, fastest, longest roller coaster. The current holder of the title of longest and fastest belongs to Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey. The ride is 456 feet tall with a drop of 418 feet with a 90 degree ascent and descent. The second hill of 129 feet is designed to provide free-floating airtime. The maximum speed achieved is 128 mph during the 3.118 feet ride. The second highest coaster in the world is at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. Top Thrill Dragster is 420 feet high. The third highest is the Steel Dragon located in Nagashima Spa Land in Japan. It is 318 feet high and the longest ride at 8,133 feet. The top ten highest have six in the US, three in Japan, and #9, the Silver Star, is located in Germany.

Safety has always been an issue. The whole point of the ride is speed and daring. While they are built to seem risky, there are many regulations regarding safety measures. Even so, there are thousands of people treated at emergency rooms yearly for injuries on coasters and there are even some fatalities.

“There’s no thrill in easy sailing when the skies are clear and blue,
There’s no joy in merely doing things which any one can do.
But there is some satisfaction that is mighty sweet to take,
When you reach a destination that you never thought you’d make.” – unknown

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” – T.S. Elliot

“Who bravely dares must sometimes risk a fall.” – Tom Bradley

“We all know that roller coasters and other amusement park rides are fun, fast and thrilling, … They are supposed to create the illusion of danger, without putting people at risk.” – Ann Brown

Also on this day, in 1968 the college basketball Game of the Century was played.

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