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130 Years Ago Monday: First U.S. Roller Coaster Opens At Coney Island

The Switchback Railway roller coaster at Coney Island, which debuted on June 16, 1884. (Credit: Public Domain)

The Switchback Railway roller coaster at Coney Island, which debuted on June 16, 1884. (Credit: Public Domain)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — One hundred thirty years ago Monday, the very first roller coaster in the U.S made its debut at Coney Island.

The coaster, called the Switchback Railway, was 600 feet long and ran a mere 6 mph, according to the Coney Island History Project. The fare was just a nickel.

The roller coaster was designed by inventor and businessman LaMarcus Adna Thompson (1848-1919.) Thompson had been inspired by the Mauch Chuk Switchback Railway in Pennsylvania, which had started as a mine train that carried coal down a mountainside but later became a tourist attraction, according to the American Physical Society.

The roller coaster did not make a round trip-loop. The passengers got out of the roller coaster cars at the end of the track, and the car was then turned around and sent back to the beginning, according to the Coney Island History Project.

The Switchback Railway ran along West 10th Street from Surf Avenue to the ocean, according to the history project. The site where it operated is near the current site of the Cyclone roller coaster.

Thompson went on to build several other roller coasters at Coney Island – next to the Dreamland amusement park, and at the Brighton Beach Park, Luna Park, and Steeplechase Park amusement parks, according to the history project.

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