On January 20, 1885, LaMarcus Thompson, an inventor and businessman from Ohio, the United States, obtained a patent for the first gravity-powered roller coaster built. Thompson is credited as the inventor of the modern day roller coaster and is hailed as the ‘Father of the Gravity Ride’.
Even at a young age Thompson was showed an interest in mechanics and had a flair for building things. By the time he was 17 he was a master carpenter. It is said that he was also a Sunday School teacher who despised the way youngsters of his day spent their free time. He especially considered amusement parks to be places of sin and degradation and sought to create wholesome entertainment which would help build the character of youngsters.
Thompson came up with the idea of the roller coaster to fulfill his mission.
Thompson’s passion for inventing and his brief stint in the wagon and carriage business helped him build the first roller coaster, which he called ‘the Switchback Railway’, on Coney Island in 1884. He referred to it as a gravity pleasure ride, the design for which was based on the method used in coal mines in eastern Pennsylvania. Coal was mined in mountains above canals where the coal was loaded for shipment.
A track was built from the opening of the mine down to the loading dock through which a train carried the coal downhill. The empty train cars were then hauled up the hill with the help of mules.
Again, the mules were brought down the hill on the train along with the coal. Thompson’s roller coaster had a similar design. People climbed a tower, got on the train and rode down the 600 feet of track. At its peak, the ride sped along at six miles per hour. When it reached the bottom, the cars were hoisted back up so that another batch of riders could experience the thrill.
He obtained the patent rights for his first roller coaster design on January 20, 1885. Thompson’s invention became an instant hit among the locals and tourists who flocked to the new attraction.
Even at five cents a week, the venture was a profitable one right from the beginning. Thompson, in a kind of missionary zeal built roller coasters all over the USA and Europe and created almost 50 rides in about four years. Thompson’s designs are the precursors to the various gravity rides across the world including the famous rides in Disneyland.