First roller coaster in America opens 1884
On this day in 1884, the first roller coaster in America opens at Coney Island, in Brooklyn, New York. Known as a switchback railway, it was the brainchild of LaMarcus Thompson, traveled approximately six miles per hour and cost a nickel to ride. The new entertainment was an instant success and by the turn of the century there were hundreds of roller coasters around the country.
Coney Island, a name believed to have come from the Dutch Konijn Eilandt, or Rabbit Island, is a tract of land along the Atlantic Ocean discovered by explorer Henry Hudson in 1609. The first hotel opened at Coney Island in 1829 and by the post-Civil War years, the area was an established resort with theaters, restaurants and a race track. Between 1897 and 1904, three amusement parks sprang up at Coney Island–Dreamland, Luna Park and Steeplechase. By the 1920s, Coney Island was reachable by subway and summer crowds of a million people a day flocked there for rides, games, sideshows, the beach and the two-and-a-half-mile boardwalk, completed in 1923.
The hot dog is said to have been invented at Coney Island in 1867 by Charles Feltman. In 1916, a nickel hot dog stand called Nathan’s was opened by a former Feltman employee and went on to become a Coney Island institution and international franchise. Today, Nathan’s is famous not only for its hot dogs but its hot dog-eating contest, held each Fourth of July in Coney Island. In 2006, Takeru Kobayashi set a new record when he ate 53.75 hot dogs with buns in 12 minutes.
Roller coasters and amusement parks experienced a decline during the Great Depression and World War II, when Americans had less cash to spend on entertainment. Finally, in 1955, the opening of Disneyland in Anaheim, California, signaled the advent of the modern theme park and a rebirth of the roller coaster. Disneyland’s success sparked a wave of new parks and coasters. By the 1970s, parks were competing to create the most thrilling rides. In 2005, Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey, introduced the Kingda Ka roller coaster, the world’s tallest (at 456 feet) and fastest (at 128 mph).
By the mid-1960s, the major amusement parks at Coney Island had shut down and the area acquired a seedy image. Nevertheless, Coney Island remains a tourist attraction and home to the Cyclone, a wooden coaster that made its debut there in 1927. Capable of speeds of 60 mph and with an 85-foot drop, the Cyclone is one of the country’s oldest coasters in operation today. Though a real-estate developer recently announced the building of a new $1.5 billion year-round resort at Coney Island that will include a 4,000-foot-long roller coaster, an indoor water park and a multi-level carousel, the Cyclone’s owners have said they plan to keep the historic coaster open for business.
(More Events on This Day in History)
- 1738 Patriot printer, publisher and postmistress, Mary Katharine Goddard, born
- 1903 Ford Motor Company incorporated
- 1862 Union thwarted at the Battle of Secessionville
- 1961 Russian ballet star Nureyev defects
- 1999 SLA member captured after more than 20 years
- 1896 Tsunami ravages Japanese coast
- 1958 Leader of Hungarian uprising executed
- 1963 First woman in space
- 1977 Brezhnev is Soviet president
- 1943 Charlie Chaplin marries Oona O’Neill
- 1904 James Joyce meets his future wife, Nora
- 1965 Bob Dylan records “Like A Rolling Stone”
- 1890 Alaskan explorer Fred Fickett leaves Army
- 1858 Lincoln warns that America is becoming a “house divided”
- 1968 Lee Trevino wins his first U.S. Open
- 1961 Kennedy agrees to send instructors to train troops
- 1965 More troops to be sent to Vietnam
- 1970 Communists isolate Phnom Penh
World War I
- 1918 Battle of the Piave River
World War II
- 1940 Marshal Petain becomes premier of occupied France