What’s the most terrifyingly safe entertainment around? Roller coasters, of course.
For just a few minutes, your lizard brain thinks the world is ending while your more rational side can see that, even at 100 miles per hour, you’re in no real danger.
Over the last 200 years, these mammoth machines have risen to incredible heights and come to pack a wallop in G-forces. Today, the tallest coaster is 456 feet tall and can get shut down if the fog is too low.
But it wasn’t always this way.
Here’s how roller coasters have evolved over the past two centuries.
The first complete roller coaster broke onto the scene in 1817, in Paris. It was known as the The Promenades-Aériennes, or The Aerial Walk. Passengers walked up a set of stairs to ride a bench down the 600-foot track at 40 mph.
Paris' coaster remained the gold-standard (really, the only standard) until 1884, when Coney Island unveiled the switchback coaster -- that's an out-and-back-style ride -- imagined by LaMarcus Thompson in homage to rail systems. It reached a top speed of 6 mph.
By the turn of the 20th century, Coney Island had already made a name for itself with Loop the Loop, a coaster that featured two small loops side by side. Many visitors preferred to watch, however, to avoid the aches of inversion.
A couple decades later, meanwhile, in 1925, a roller coaster in Revere Beach, Massachusetts known as The Cyclone (apparently a popular ride name) pursued another feat. It was the first coaster to reach 100 feet tall.
Disneyland released the first roller coaster with steel tubular track in 1959 with the Matterhorn Bobsleds. The technology set the standard for how future behemoths would hurtle passengers along. (It was also the first ride named for an Alpine mountain, we assume.)
Disneyland's innovation marked a turning point for coaster anatomy. In 1976, Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California unveiled Revolution, the first 'modern' coaster with a loop.
Suddenly, all theme parks demanded they have their own looping coaster, and one was no longer enough. In 1980 the Carolina Cyclone opened at Carowinds in Charlotte. It was the first to have four inversions.
Height was still a big deal. Cedar Point, arguably the greatest amusement park on Earth, opened Magnum XL-200 in 1989 -- so named for its distinction as the first ride to reach the 200-foot mark.
By the 1990s, however, the ride-going public had grown somewhat weary of loops and tall drops. So in 1992 Six Flags Great America, in Gurnee, Illinois, came out with Batman: The Ride. Riders sat beneath the track, their legs dangling in the breeze.
Another technological innovation emerged in 1996, with Kings Dominion's Flight of Fear. It was the first roller coaster to use linear motor propulsion, a technique often used in trains that eliminates the need for lift hills.
A year later, Australia's Dreamworld amusement park opened Tower of Terror II, an L-shaped ride that sent riders plummeting at 100 mph, the first coaster to achieve that speed.
Just before the millennium, Islands of Adventure in Orlando gave the thrill-seeking world Dueling Dragons, the first inverted dueling coasters. Adrenaline-junkies now had the ability to 'race' against fellow riders.
Cedar Point broke its own record for tallest coaster in 2000 with Millennium Force. It stands an impressive 310 feet tall, reaches 93 mph, and features an 80-degree drop.
Japan quickly eclipsed Cedar Point's achievement in 2001, however, with Dodonpa. The vertigo-inducing 90-degree drop was the first in the world.
Manufacturers took things up another notch in 2002 with Magic Mountain's X coaster (now the X2). It was the first coaster whose seats rotated horizontally. As riders shot forward, their seats scrambled wildly.
The peak achievement at Cedar Point came in 2003 with Top Thrill Dragster. At 420 feet tall, it was the first ride to surpass the 400-foot mark. Designed in the image of a drag-racer, it hits a top speed of 120 mph at takeoff.
Kingda Ka in Six Flags Great Adventure quickly surpassed Top Thrill Dragster in 2005, though. It climbs 456 feet high and needs near-ideal cloud conditions to stay in operation. Too foggy and the ride is a no go.
Though many roller coaster innovations have taken place in the US, the UK achieved a 2009 record with Saw: The Ride. It was the first coaster to come with a 100-degree free fall, in which riders actually dip back behind their launch point.
The current world-record holder for fastest roller coaster was built in 2010 in Abu Dhabi. Formula Rossa, located at Ferrari World, goes 0-149 mph in just 4 seconds.
Taking a cue from Saw: The Ride, Japan's answer to the extreme free fall came in 2011 with Takabisha. Its 121-degree drop will have you feeling like your somersaulting out of your seat.
But amid all this climbing and steepening, another park went back to focusing on inversions. In 2013, Alton Towers -- a park in England -- opened The Smiler, the first coaster with 14 inversions. It looks like a tangled set of wires.
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