Coasting Through History: The Beginning
Roller coasters: they stir up excitement in some and fear in others. Most people think of a roller coaster as the tall, fast modern day ride we have today without realizing the history of where they came from. Since the beginning, roller coasters have proven to be a worldwide hit, which is why so much attention was given to making design advancements. In this Coasting Through History series, we’ll explore where coasters have come from and how we got to where we are today.
So where did these ever popular rides come from? Beginning in the late fifteenth century, the first version of what would become our modern day roller coaster appeared. It was developed in Saint Petersburg, Russia, surprisingly during the winter. These primitive “roller coasters” were made by covering wooden ramps, ranging in height from a few to seventy feet, with ice. These structures were aptly named Russian Mountains. Passengers descended the ramps on ice blocks strapped to their straw seats by a piece of rope.
The ramps were watered daily to maintain usability and sand was spread at the bottom to slow the sleds to a stop. It was not long before the upper class and royalty learned of these ice slides. These upper class citizens felt that their status demanded a better vehicle so they had fancier wooden sleds crafted for them.
These slides became so popular that they were incorporated into major cities’ festivals. Some were as long as a few city blocks and housed up to 30 sleds at one time. When the snow melted in the summer, the Russians saw that they could still enjoy the ramps by making wheeled carts to use instead of sliding on ice. Because of their year-round capability, these slides stuck around for many years and eventually spurred others to create their own variations.
Stay tuned for the next article, Coasting Through History: The Early Years, to learn about Centrifugal Railways and the Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway!
*some information sourced from Robert Coker’s book Roller Coaster
Very excited for this series. Can you imagine a park building some of these original coasters now?! Looking forward to the next post.