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What Led to the Invention of the Roller Coaster?

No thrillseeker today would dream of jumping onto a roller coaster that boasts a top speed of only 6 mph (9.7 kph) and lasts only one minute, but such a slowpoke drew lines and raked in an average of $600 USD a day when it opened on Coney Island in 1884, becoming the first "official" roller coaster in America. That marvel of machinery came about thanks to LaMarcus Adna Thompson, who had ridden the country's first "unofficial" roller coaster years before in eastern Pennsylvania. That coaster, built in 1827, was actually just a railroad that dived down from the mountains, hauling coal, and then got dragged back to the top via harnessed mules. While it doesn't sound like much, the Mauch Chunk and Summit Railroad drew onlookers who soon wanted to take a ride on the 9-mile-long (14.5 km) track-- and the railroad complied. After Thompson took his ride and then built Coney Island's Gravity Pleasure Switchback Railway, he spent the next four years building over 50 more coasters, and America's amusement parks got their mainstay.

Still rockin' on the rails:

  • The United Arab Emirates boasts the world's fastest roller coaster, Formula Rossa, which zips along at 150 mph (241 kph).
  • The oldest roller coaster still in operation is Leap-The-Dips, a wooden coaster built in 1902 in Lakemont Park, Pennsylvania.
  • Richard Rodriguez holds the world record for longest time riding a roller coaster, at 405 hours and 40 minutes.

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