If you have ever wondered how in the world someone decided to plummet themselves along at massive speeds in a little box with wheels, then you may be surprised at how the invention first came to be. The Roller Coaster holds its heritage from a Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway in Pennsylvania, which was being used to transport the coal down a mountainside.
What started off as a simple and easy way to move coal down a mountain turned into a popular tourist destination for thousands of thrill-seekers in the late 19th century. There are of course earlier precedents of roller coasters in the history books, notably those that were built for Russian royalty. But it really is the Mauch Chunk that popularized the thrill-seeking and speeds that we see in roller coasters today. To think it was originally designed to transport coal.
Opened in 1827, it seemed like a real technological advance for coal miners, no longer would they have to trek 9 miles down the mountain or use a mule. And as with any new technological miracle, it attracted onlookers to see how it worked. Which is when some brave people decided it would be fun to climb into the carts themselves. You see they realized the carts would travel at speeds of over 50 miles per hour, a feat that started the American appetite for creating rides that went against gravity.
And by 1872 the railway had become completely obsolete for transporting coal, due to a tunnel through the mountain that was able to send the coal down even faster. The owners didn’t want to demolish a perfectly good railway, so they thought the best thing to do would be to turn it into a tourist attraction. Which is how over 35,000 people a year lined up to shoot down a mountain at reckless speeds: for the thrill of the ride and the scenic views of the mountains.
Eventually, it did close down during the Depression, as revenue dried up from lack of visitors, but it had inspired the first roller coasters to be built on Coney Island: and the rest, as they say, is history.