What about the first roller coaster?
According to the fantastically informative history section of UltimateRollercoaster.com, today's roller coaster has its roots in the Russian Ice Slides of the mid-1600s. Popular mostly around St. Petersburg, these wooden constructions resembled giant skateboard half-pipe ramps coated in ice. Happy-go-lucky Russians would shoot down the ramp on a sled, zip up the other side, and then gradually slide down to the middle. Catherine the Great was apparently a huge fan. Enough said.
When did wheels enter the picture? Roller-coaster historian (??) Robert Cartmell cites a ride in the Gardens of Orienbaum in St. Petersburg (1784) that featured "carriages which undulated over hills within grooved tracks." Unfortunately, no engineer is credited with the project, and there is some dispute with the French on this matter.
The first roller coaster built in the U.S.A. was called the Gravity Pleasure Switchback Railway. Built by LaMarcus Thompson in 1884, it opened in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York.
Visit UltimateRollercoaster.com to learn more about early roller coasters and enjoy some wonderful illustrations. You'll also find an engraving of the world's first looping roller coaster!
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