During the 1920s (or the Roaring Twenties, as it was sometimes referred to), there was a slight end to economic hardship, and there was a beginning of people starting to look for more exciting things in life. It was the end of the first World War, and there was an economic boom in the United States. People were listening to jazz, women were cutting their hair and wearing short dresses, and the world population was growing. Some people were looking for more excitement when it came to theme parks and carnivals, and that’s when the roller coaster was born.
The United States created and designed somewhere between 1500-2000 coasters during the 1920s alone. There were several more before and after that decade, but the 1920s brought more coasters than any other previous decade. Today, the main coasters are made of steel, which are less expensive to maintain, and last a lot longer than the previous wooden roller coasters. Ironically, all of the coasters on the list are made from wood because back then, there was no such thing as the steel coaster, and no computers to help design them. The United States tops the list with six roller coasters that are still in operation, three of which are located in Pennsylvania.
10) Thunderhawk – Dorney Park, Allentown, PA, 1923
Built in 1923, Thunderhawk was simply named “The Coaster,” but did not open until 1924. “The Coaster” was renamed to Thunderhawk in 1989, when another ride, Hercules, was added to Dorney Park (where it is located). It originally was simply a drop-down-and-come-back type of ride when it first opened, but was turned into a figure-eight roller coaster in 1930. The wooden roller coaster has been painted and re-painted several times throughout the course of its life, and has had quite a few transformations since the opening of it, almost 100 years ago. It normally had a bumper car ride that was seated around the coaster that was separate, but after Cedar Fairs had purchased the park in 1993, the bumper car ride was removed. Only one incident has occurred on Thunderpark during the entire course of its existence, and that was due to operator error. Two of the cars on the coaster had hit each other on the bottom of the lift hill, but the ride was operating fine before and after that happened. There were no serious injuries and the ride was re-opened soon after the incident.
9) Hullamvasut – Vidampark, Budapest, Hungary, 1922
Hullamvasut, one of the oldest wooden roller coasters in the world, was closed in September 2013. The amusement park, Vidampark, closed its doors back in September, but the roller coaster remained. A month later, the Budapest Zoo next to Vidampark reopened the wooden roller coaster and renamed it, “Timber Roller Coaster.” The operators decided that the location and popularity of the ride were enough to keep it open, along with a merry-go-round and a few other rides that were left behind when Vidampark closed down.
8) Big Dipper – Blackpool Pleasure Beach, England, 1921
In England, wooden roller coasters are referred to as “woodies,” and Big Dipper is one of the oldest “woodies” in the world. Big Dipper is located at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in Blackpool, England. It has five drops, banked corners and a lot of twists. This wooden coaster is 70 feet tall, at its highest peak, and it maxes out at 35 miles per hour. Built in 1921, many people have ridden on Big Dipper, including American Richard Rodriguez, who set a world record in August 1998. He rode Big Dipper for over 1000 hours, then returned again to beat his own record by riding it for another 2000 hours. That’s a lot of “woodie” in one setting.
7) The Roller Coaster, Lagoon Park, Farmington, Utah, 1921
Lagoon Park in Farmington, Utah, is home to the last standing Schwarzkopf Double Looping coaster, and also holds one of the oldest wooden roller coasters, simply called, “The Roller Coaster.” The Roller Coaster is known by many who visit, as the “White Roller Coaster.” The Roller Coaster was built in 1921, and was damaged heavily by fire in 1953, causing the lift hill to be restructured. It has had many upgrades, including adding a computer and new trains. It became listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012, but was never officially called a name other than “The Roller Coaster.” During times when the park is closed, workers try to reconstruct sections of the coaster, to keep it well-maintained.
6) Jack Rabbit – Kennywood, West Mifflin, PA, 1920
The Jack Rabbit at Kennywood is located in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, and was designed and built in 1920. It was built on an ecological ravine; which makes it a terrain coaster. This means that the builders used the actual land to create the ride, making it less expensive and entail less supports than most other coasters. The awesome thing about this wooden coaster is its 70-foot drop, which was pretty much unheard of back when it was first built. It has a double-dip drop, which makes riders get the feeling like they are falling out of their seats when they go over the hill. The Jack Rabbit has a maximum speed of 45 miles per hour and is 2132 feet long. It was designed so that the very last seat in each train (there are six all together), will provide the most airtime, so it is probably the best seat to stay away from for those with bad backs.
5) Jack Rabbit, Seabreeze Park, Irondequoit, NY, 1920
Another wooden roller coaster named Jack Rabbit, opened in the same year at Seabreeze Park, in Irondequoit, New York (near Rochester). Jack Rabbit may not be the oldest roller coaster in the world, but it is one of the oldest continuously running roller coasters, since it has never been closed for non-operation. When it first opened, it was considered the fastest roller coaster in the world, and it has a 75-foot drop and is 2150 feet long. Smaller children cannot ride Jack Rabbit due to a minimum height requirement of 48 inches. This wooden coaster also has a long tunnel at the end of the ride, giving for even more of a thrill ride.
4) Wild One – Six Flags, Hull, MA, 1917
At the time the wooden coaster, Wild One opened, it was the tallest roller coaster in the world at 98 feet tall. The Wild One was not always called by that name. It was actually built in 1917 under the name, Giant Coaster at Paragon Park in Hull, Massachusetts. The Wild One was reconstructed several times due to fires, and even some of it was destroyed and was too costly to rebuild back to its original standing. There was another coaster that had its trains sold to the owners of Wild One, which was the Comet, and for years, the Wild One was operating with the word “Comet” across the front of the trains. The coaster was finally shut down in 1985, and started running again in 1986, when Six Flags had attained the ride at an auction. It has since been completely restored and currently operates at Six Flags in Hull, Massachusetts.
3) Rutschebanen – Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, 1914
When first riding on this wooden coaster, you go through (what seems like) a cave, then a long tunnel before riding up a tall slope, curving around, then flying back down to go through several more tunnels; the last one being so dark it is nearly impossible to see. The riders are able to see the fun house when going on parts of the ride, which was built inside the mountain that was designed for riders to view what was going on at other parts of the park. Rutschebanen (often just called “The Roller Coaster”) was built in 1914, in Copenhagen, Denmark and is currently still in operation at Tivoli Gardens. During World War II, when gas was extremely limited, workers at Tivoli Gardens used capstans to help haul up the coasters on the track at the first hill.
2) Scenic Railway – Luna Park, Melbourne, Australia, 1912
Don’t let the name “Scenic Railway” fool you, if you’re planning on visiting the second oldest roller coaster at the 101 year-old theme park in Australia. Scenic Railway is the continually running oldest roller coaster in the world, even though it derailed in 1989 and injured twenty people. As of June 2014, Scenic Railway is being restored and will not open back up until September. That will remove it from the title of “longest continually operating roller coaster in the world,” giving the name to Jack Rabbit in Seabreeze Park.
1) Leap the Dips – Lakemont Park, Altoona, PA, 1902
The oldest roller coaster still in the world that is still operating is located in the United States, at Lakemont Park in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Leap the Dips was built by E. Joy Morris Company in 1902, and had to be closed in 1985 because of the poor shape it was in, being over 100 years old. It was repaired in 1997, and was reopened in 1999, when fundraisers decided that Pennsylvania desired the title of having “the oldest operating roller coaster in the world.” Leap the Dips is 41 feet high, and only goes ten miles an hour, but it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1996.
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