La Marcus Thompson’s Gravity Switchback Pleasure Railway debuted in 1884 in Coney Island on the site where the Cyclone thrills today. Film footage doesn’t exist since the Kinetoscope wasn’t invented until the 1890s, but this documentary short by British filmmaker R.W. Paul shows patrons at an English fairground enjoying a Switchback Railway in 1898. We love the little boy running up to see the coaster and hope that he got a chance to ride!
Thompson’s 1885 patent was titled “A Roller Coasting Structure” and his gravity-powered ride which took its inspiration from a mining railway is known as America’s first roller coaster. In Coney Island, the first cars seated passengers sideways and went 6 miles per hour over 600 feet of undulating track. When people waited on line for up to three hours to ride, a reporter for the New York Sun proclaimed that “Coasting” was all the rage in Coney this season. As for the nickel ride: “It combined the effect of seasickness, imparted by the primeval swing, with the rush of a runaway ice wagon on a down grade; but besides all this there is a feeling of sailing through space which is elsewhere unattainable without the assistance of a balloon.”
By 1888, Thompson had been granted 30 patents and had built at least 20 roller coasters in the U.S. and 24 more abroad including several in the U.K., according to Robert Cartmell’s The Incredible Scream Machine.
Related posts on ATZ…
January 8, 2012: Video of the Day: Coney Island at Night by Edwin S. Porter
August 16, 2011: Video of the Day: “IT Girl” Clara Bow in Coney Island
March 10, 2011: Video: Seasons of the Cyclone Roller Coaster by Charles Denson
January 15, 2011: ATZ Saturday Matinee: Shorty at Coney Island