On this day in 1884, the Switchback Railway opened at Coney Island. It was not a transport; it was the first roller coaster designed as a thrill ride. I guess we have to be careful, because certainly early train riders must have found the experience thrilling. But the Switchback was only intended to be thrilling — it didn’t take anyone anywhere. Well, not exactly. It was not like the new rides where you end up back where you started. Instead, you climbed up to a tower, got in and it took you to a a secondary 600 feet away. One difference from modern roller coasters: people were seated sideways; the cars were more or less park benches on rollers.
The cost of the ride was a nickle — roughly $1.25 today. And for that, you got the thrill of traveling at a speed slightly over — I am not making this up — six miles per hour! That’s right: the Switchback Railway peaked out at the speed that is less than the average speed that an amateur marathon runner averages over 26 miles. Still, I’m sure it was way cool. And more suitable to me than many of the monster roller coasters around today.
Happy anniversary roller coaster!