The World's First Roller Coasters

Scenic Railway in Melbourne, Australia, is one of the oldest roller coasters in the world.
Scenic Railway in Melbourne, Australia, is one of the oldest roller coasters in the world.

A roller coaster is commonly found in amusement parks and seats people in a series of cars moving along a light railroad. Tunnels and steep slopes further add thrill to the ride. The inspiration for the roller coaster dates back to 18th century Russia, at a time when winter sledding was a popular sport. Not all of the earliest roller coasters remain standing to date, although some impressively do.

The World's First Roller Coasters


The idea to build roller coasters in France was promoted by visitors who had witnessed the ice sleds in Russia and referred to them as Russian Mountains. Two roller coasters began operating in the city of Paris in 1917, known as Les Montagnes Russes á Belleville and Promenades Aeriennes. The roller coasters were characterized by wheeled cars fitted with axles which fit into groove cuts made on the tracks. The roller coasters had high speeds, and guide rails were used to keep them on course. Safety on the coasters was however not advanced, and the increasing number of injuries coupled with the loss of public interest prompted them to be dismantled by the mid-1800s.

United States

Seven of the earliest roller coasters in the country are still operational in different states in the US. In Summit Hill, Pennsylvania was a defunct coal-hauling railroad built in 1850. It was named the Mauch Chunk gravity railroad, and it transported coal from a mine situated on a mountain down a 14 km track to a canal below. By 1874, instead of being limited to just coal, the railroad carried sightseers on an amusement ride for 10 cents. It would continue to operate for entertainment until 1938. The Mauch Chunk Railroad inspired LaMarcus Adna Thompson to design the Switchback Railway which opened in 1884 at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. A bench-like car transported riders down a 59 feet track through a series of gentle hills anchored by a wooden trestle. At the opposite end, the car was moved to a return track.

In 1885, Coney Island gained yet another roller coaster referred to as the Gravity Pleasure Road. It was designed by Phillip Hinkle, and had a complete-circuit coaster as well as a lift hill. Two roller coasters were built in 1895 namely the Flip Flap Railway and the Loop the Loop. The Flip Flap Railway operated in Sea Lion Park in Brooklyn, New York and it was designed by Lina Beecher. It was a looping roller coaster, the first of its kind in North America. However, its extreme G-forces caused injuries and it was ultimately shut down in 1902. The Loop the Loop was also designed by Lina Beecher, and it was a steel roller coaster. It was situated in Olentangy Park in Columbus, Ohio. In 1902 the Leap-The-Dips roller coaster began operating in Lakemont Park Altoona, Pennsylvania. It is one of the last side friction roller coasters still operating in the country. In 1927, The Cyclone roller coaster was constructed in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York designed by Vernon Keenan. It is still in operation to this date.


Australia gained its first roller coaster named the Scenic Railway in 1912. The track stretches for 967 meters, complete with dips, turns, and scenic views. It operates from Luna Park, Melbourne Australia and it is recognized as the oldest continually-operating roller coaster in the world.

Roller Coasters Still In Use

The 1920s experienced somewhat of a roller coaster renaissance, when approximately 2,000 roller coasters were designed. To this day, the United States is home to the most roller coasters that remain in continuous operation.

The World's First Roller Coasters

RankCoaster NameLocationYear Constructed
1Les Montagnes Russes à BellevilleParis, France1817
2Promenades Aeriennes Paris, France1817
3Mauch Chunk gravity railroadSummit Hill, Pennsylvania1850
4Switchback Railway Brooklyn, New York (Coney Island)1884
5Gravity Pleasure RoadBrooklyn, New York (Coney Island)1885
6Flip Flap RailwayBrooklyn, New York (Sea Lion Park)1895
7Loop the LoopColumbus, Ohio1895
8Leap-The-DipsAltoona, Pennsylvania1902
9Scenic RailwayMelbourne, Australia1912
10The CycloneBrooklyn, New York (Coney Island)1927

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