People have been seeking thrills on roller coasters since the 17th century, when Russians built towering wood ramps covered in ice. We’ve come a long way since then, adding wheels and tracks, loops and turns.
It wasn’t until La Marcus Adna Thompson debuted his Switchback Railway at Coney Island in 1884 that the modern amusement park roller coaster was born.
Thompson’s creation wasn’t exactly the wild ride we know today—cars covered 600 feet of rolling hills at a sluggish six miles per hour—but it was wildly popular. The ride earned hundreds of dollars each day, though it cost only a nickel per ride.
Today’s roller coasters continue to push the boundaries of physics (the new Valdravn at Cedar Point amusement park will break pretty much ever record with a 3,415-foot roller coaster that features a 214-foot free-fall). Brave riders will hit breakneck speeds of 25-miles-per-hour. At Dollywood, visitors can ride Lightning Rod (the world’s fastest wooden roller coaster) at a cool 73 miles per hour.
But it’s easy enough just to be nostalgic for the good old days, when roller coasters were a bit more scenic and less nausea inducing (for those of us who really hate being flipped upside down). And nothing makes us feel wistful more than vintage, black-and-white photos of roller coasters from the last century.
To travel back in time to a more modest era of amusement park exhilaration, check out these stunning, historic photos of roller coasters, dating back to 1902.