From humble beginnings to dominating modern theme park skylines, roller coasters are steeped with a rich history of technical advancements. Here’s a timeline of many highlights that influenced the development of roller coasters throughout the years.
2016 – First Roller Coaster with Virtual Reality
While Virtual Reality had been tested on roller coasters prior, The New Revolution Virtual Reality Coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain in California, USA, opened in 2016 as the first to fully feature VR on board. The roller coaster also sported newly designed trains, in part as celebration of the coaster’s 50th anniversary.
2013 – RMC Debuts Company’s First Roller Coaster
Rocky Mountain Construction was contracted by several companies to construct roller coasters and by parks to improve existing coasters, but with Outlaw Run at Silver Dollar City in Missouri, USA, the company showed they could design and build top rated coasters from the ground up.
2011 – B&M Builds Wing Coaster
Although Intamin was first to the punch in 2007 with the one-off Furius Baco at PortAventura Park in Spain, B&M started the wing coaster popularity with Raptor at Gardaland in Italy. The hulking coasters feature seats beside the track, rather than on top or below, and near-miss elements that add excitement to the ride experience.
2011 – Rocky Mountain Construction Debuts New Texas Giant
In 2010 RMC was contracted by Six Flags Over Texas, USA, to convert the classic Texas Giant wooden roller coaster to an all-new steel track design, which reopened as the New Texas Giant, featuring steeper drops and added elements. The company has gone on to convert many more wooden coasters that now rank among the best steel coasters in the world.
2003 – First Full-Circuit Roller Coaster to Break 400 Feet (120m) Height
Top Thrill Dragster opened at Cedar Point in Ohio, USA, as the tallest, fastest full-circuit roller coaster in the world. Standing 420 feet (130m) tall, it was eclipsed by 36 feet (9m) two years later with the opening of another Intamin Strata Coaster – Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey, USA.
2002 – First Roller Coaster with Ten Inversions
Continuing the inversion count record, Intamin debuted Colossus at Thorpe Park in the UK, which featured a world record ten inversions. Colossus has a variety of inversions, including vertical loops, in-line twists, corkscrews, and a cobra roll. The model proved to be so popular that it has been cloned several times.
2001 – Tallest Wooden Coaster Record Claimed
Colossus opened at Heide Park in Germany as the world’s tallest wooden roller coaster at nearly 197 feet (60m), a record it still carries to this day. With Colossus one of the world’s largest steel coaster companies, Intamin, debuted its “plug ‘n’ play” wooden coaster. These are the IKEA flat pack furniture of the coaster world. The coaster track and supports are laser cut in Sweden, then sent with assembly instructions to the park.
2001 – First 4th Dimension Roller Coaster Opens
Arrow Dynamics opened X, the world’s first 4th Dimension roller coaster, at Six Flags Magic Mountain in California, USA, which independently flipped rider seats throughout the course of the ride. X would turn out to be plagued with mechanical problems, so much that it led to Arrow Dynamics’ ultimate bankruptcy; however S&S Power would continue support for the ride and its eventual reincarnation as X2, which featured lighter, more reliable trains and added multi-sensory effects.
2000-Onwards – Wooden Roller Coasters Second Glory Years?
The break up of Custom Coasters International in 2002 led to two new wooden roller coaster companies forming, Gravity Group and Great Coasters International (GCI). Both companies have gone on to forge the way for incredible new wooden coaster designs. GCI still use traditional methods of building wooden coasters, whereas Gravity Group tend to use metal supports with wooden track on top (this allows for much cheaper and quicker construction of larger coasters).
2000 – First Full-Circuit Roller Coaster to Break 300 Feet Height
Intamin debuts the 310 foot (94m) tall Millennium Force at Cedar Point in Ohio, USA, featuring a 300 foot (91m) drop and top speed of 93 mph (150 km/h). Millennium Force was also the first roller coaster to feature a cable lift and was among the first coasters to feature stadium-style train seating as well as magnetic brakes.
2000 – Worlds Only Looping Wooden Coaster Opens
Son of Beast at Kings Island in Ohio, featured a vertical loop section that was actually made of steel. The loop was removed in 2006 following an accident and the roller coaster was permanently closed in 2009.
1997 – First Roller Coaster to Break 400 Feet Height, 100 mph
Intamin debuted two magnetic LSM Launch shuttle coasters, Tower of Terror at Dreamworld in Gold Coast, Australia and Superman The Escape at Six Flags Magic Mountain in California, USA. The latter stands 415 feet (126.5m) tall with a top speed of 100 mph (161 km/h). These roller coasters featured a slightly different magnetic launch than Flight of Fear, which allowed for a more efficient launch.
1996-2002 – Wooden Coaster Resurgence
In the early 90’s, a company called Custom Coasters International (CCI) started to build wooden roller coasters. Using modern technology, they revisited the olden, steep, twisted designs of the 1920’s. Suddenly people were very interested in wooden coasters again thanks to woodies like The Raven at Holiday World in Indiana, USA; Megafobia at Oakwood Park in Wales, UK; Tonnerre de Zeus at Parc Astérix in France; Shivering Timbers at Michigan’s Adventure, USA; Medusa at Six Flags Mexico; and Boulder Dash at Lake Compounce in Connecticut, USA.
1996 – First Magnetic Launch Roller Coaster
Outer Limits: Flight of Fear opened at Kings Island in Ohio and Kings Dominion in Virginia, USA, as the world’s first magnetic LIM Launch roller coasters. These roller coasters were built by Premier Rides and designed as a jumble of tight track and inversions, often described as resembling a “spaghetti bowl.”
1992 – Bolliger and Mabillard Opens First Inverted Roller Coaster
Designed to give a sense of flight, B&M opened Batman The Ride at Six Flags Great America in Illinois, USA, which provided large, sweeping inversions and intense g-forces. B&M inverted roller coasters remain one of the most popular coasters in the world and are still built to this day.
1991 – The Ultimate Claims Longest Roller Coaster Record
The Ultimate opened at Lightwater Valley in the UK, featuring more than 1.4 miles (2.25 km) of track.
1989 – First Full-Length Roller Coaster To Break 200 Feet Height
Magnum XL-200 opened at Cedar Point in Ohio, USA, as the tallest, fastest, steepest full-length steel roller coaster in the world. The 205 foot (62m) tall coaster would be Arrow Dynamics’ fourth and final installment for Cedar Point.
1984 – Vekoma Builds First Boomerang Coaster
After working with Arrow Dynamics on construction of the Corkscrew at Alton Towers in the UK, Vekoma broke off to build their own design of roller coasters. This began with the Boomerang coaster, a shuttle roller coaster that uses a chain lift to raise the train, which is dropped through a series of inversions, meets a second lift hill to raise it to the top of a second spike, and then drops to reverse course back to the station. Over 50 Vekoma Boomerangs have been constructed, making it one of the most popular coaster designs in the world.
1983 – First Roller Coaster to Break 200 Feet Height
Moonsault Scrambler, built by Sanoyas Hishino Meisho, became the first roller coaster break the 200 feet (61m) limit at Fujiyoshida in Japan. Standing 233 feet (71m), Moonsault Scrambler’s record would remain unbroken until 1996.
1980-mid 1990’s – Wooden Coaster Wilderness Years
Although wooden roller coasters were still being built in the U.S. on occasion, they had pretty much completely fallen out of vogue. People still enjoyed the old woodies, but they were seen as old technology compared to everything a modern steel coaster could offer.
1979 – The Beast Claims Longest Roller Coaster Record
The Beast opened at Kings Island in Ohio, USA, as the world’s tallest, fastest and longest roller coaster. Featuring more than 1.4 miles (2.25 km) of track, it remains the longest wooden coaster to this day.
1977 – Schwarzkopf Debuts the First Launched Roller Coaster
King Kobra opened at Kings Dominion in Virginia, USA, as the world’s first launched roller coaster. Using a 50-ton counterweight, the coaster train was launched at speeds of 53 mph (85 km/h) to go through a vertical loop and travel up a vertical spike, to then reverse and travel backwards through the course.
1976 – The First Modern Loop Debuts
1975 – The First Modern Inversion Debuts
Focused on continuing to push the boundaries of steel roller coaster design, Arrow Dynamics debuted the first modern inversion at Knott’s Berry Farm in California, USA, with the Corkscrew. This coaster featured two back-to-back corkscrew inversions. The iconic coaster has since been relocated to Silverwood Theme Park in Idaho, USA.
1972 – Second Golden Age of Roller Coasters
Roller coasters reentered as the focus of amusement parks with the opening of Kings Island in Ohio, USA, which featured The Racer. This was the first amusement park to use a coaster as a central attraction, a model which was subsequently copied to other parks around the world.
1965 – Stengel Engineering Founded
Werner Stengel first worked with Anton Schwarzkopf in 1963 to help design the first few Schwarzkopf roller coasters. Stengel recognized how important design was to the coaster industry, which encouraged him to found his own Engineering firm in 1965. In total, Stengel Engineering (now Ing.-Büro Stengel GmbH) has designed over 450 coasters; so much so that an estimated 3/4 of the world’s top steel coasters had direct involvement from Stengel Engineering.
1959 – First Steel Tubular Track is Used
Walt Disney, inspired by the live-action film Third Man on the Mountain, opened Matterhorn Bobsleds, a mountain-themed toboggan coaster at Disneyland in California, USA. The steel track design was the first of its kind, using a tubular design that allowed for train wheels to maintain closer contact with the track, creating a smoother ride.
1949 – John C. Allen Opens First Roller Coaster
Nightmare opened at Joyland in Kansas, USA, as Allen’s first roller coaster. Allen would go on to design many beloved wooden coasters including Blue Streak at Cedar Point and Racer at Kings Island in Ohio, USA.
1929 – First Bobsled Coaster
Following up on his 1926 patent, former British aviator John Norman Bartlett worked with John A Miler to design and build Flying Turns, a Bobsled Coaster where the train free wheels through a trough (a.k.a chute). Instead of sitting side-by-side, riders sit in a single row behind one other, similar to athletes in a bobsleigh.
1920’s – First Golden Age of Roller Coasters
During the economic high times of the roaring 1920’s, there was a massive explosion of roller coasters, with more than 300 built throughout the decade. Many of these were based on John A Miller’s new Upstop Wheel design that ensured the train would stay on the track, allowing for more aggressive track layouts.
Early 1900s – Flat Steel Track is Used
During the early 20th century, “flat” steel track (that is, non-tubular) was used for certain roller coasters to provide a smoother ride than wooden track. Steel track carried the advantage of requiring less maintenance than wooden track, and required less support structure.
1911 – Virginia Reel developed
A Virginia Reel had a spinning car going down a twisting track. The one at Pleasure Beach Blackpool in the UK was demolished due to safety issues in 1981 and was one of the last remaining in the world.
1903 – John A Miller Builds First Roller Coaster
A founding father of the roller coaster industry, Miller’s first creation was the simply named Roller Coaster at Cascade Park in Pennsylvania, USA. Miller would go on to design more than 140 coasters.
1902 – Leap the Dips Built
Leap the Dips is the oldest operating roller coaster in the world. It’s a side-friction Toboggan coaster and resides at Lakemount Park in Pennsylvania, USA.
1887 – First Toboggan Coasters Debut
Around the same time as the first Scenic Railway appeared, so did the Toboggan roller coaster (also known as Figure 8 or Leap the Dips). These coasters ran through wooden troughs that featured mild dips and turns, while wheels on the side and bottom of the car guided the train along. Brakes in the track, controlled by an operator, kept speeds down.
1887 – First Scenic Railway
Developed and built by Le Marcus Thompson at Atlantic City in New Jersey, USA, these rides were seen as an exciting tour, rather than a heart-stopping adventure. The ride had wheels underneath, and on the sides, but nothing held the cars onto the track, so speed was controlled by a brakeman on the ride.
1885 – First Commercial Looping Coaster Debut
Flip-Flap railway opened at Coney Island in New York, USA.
1880’s – Switchback Railways Debut
These early coasters were made famous by LeMarcus Thompson and first opened at New York City’s Coney Island in 1884. Though Richard Knudson patented the design first, it was Thompson that brought them to the masses.
Riders would climb to the top of the structure and get in the car. It would then gently, at around 6 mph (10 km/h), undulate to the ground. There it would be pushed up the other side by workers. At the top, the car would be “switched” onto the parallel return track and sent back to the start.
1840’s – First Looping Coasters Debut in Europe
One opened in France and a smaller one in the UK.
1817 – First Roller Coasters
Two wooden tracked “coasters” were built in France. They had very simple layouts, with carriages connected to the track.