13 Beautiful Historic Photos of Roller Coasters
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.
A South Shore Switchback
On March 26, 1934, Reg Speller captured men working on the girders of a new switchback along the South Shore at Blackpool, in England. They were preparing for massive holiday crowds arriving for the Easter holiday.
The Magic Mountain Colossus
From the top of this notable Los Angeles ride, there’s really nowhere else to look but down. This photo was captured on January 22, 1979: the ride operated for 36 years, and was damaged by a fire while being disassembled to make room for a newer, modern ride.
Playland Amuseument Park
In 1955, safety engineer Harvey Ouellette was pictured performing some funfair maintenance at Playland Amusement Park in Rye, New York.
Exactly one decade after Spencer Grant snapped this photograph in 1974, the Massachusetts amusement park was shuttered.
The Giant Coaster
When this Nantasket Beach, Massachusetts rollercoaster opened at Paragon Park in 1917, it had an impressive “double helix finale.” A 1963 fire destroyed the ride’s grand ending.
This photo, snapped Memorial Day weekend of 1973, probably captured guests enjoying the twists—and more twists—of the Mister Twister roller coaster. It boasted to not have “a foot of straight track” when it opened in 1965. Today, you can ride an operating replica
This racing-style rollercoaster (two parallel, mirror-image tracks) starred in the Universal Pictures disaster and suspense movie, Rollercoaster, which premiered in 1977.
This steel roller coaster was shot by Toronto Star photographer Colin McConnell on July 20, 1983.
Loop the Loop
In 1901, Loop the Loop opened at Young's Pier In Atlantic City. This photograph of one of the earliest roller coasters of its kind in the country was shot a year later.
This iconic roller coaster took the place of Thompson’s Switchback Railway. It opened in 1927, and goes a fair 60 miles per hour. Today, it sits proudly on the National Register of Historic Places.
A Field Trip to Coney Island
In the summer of 1973, some 50 students from the Soviet Union—and their chaperones—took a ride on the famous Coney Island Cyclone.
In 1913, Prince George and Princess Mary enjoyed a roller coaster ride at the opening of Earls Court Exhibition Centre in London. The photograph was included in The Royal Jubilee Book, which collected images from 1910-1935.
This beloved wooden roller coaster (it had an 85-foot-drop and sped along at 50 miles per hour) was built in 1924, and demolished with along with Chicago’s Riverview Amusement Park when it closed in 1967—only four years after this photograph was taken.