Back on the Switchback Railway


Coney’s Island’s Switchback Railway was America‘s first roller coaster.  Designed by LaMarcus Adna Thompson in 1881, constructed in 1884, Thompson may have based his design on the Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway; a coal-mining train that, in 1827, was turned into a amusement ride.

A ride on the SR cost five cents. The stately dressed crowds of summers long ago would ascend a tower, be seated in bench-like cars, and pushed off to coast along at over 6 mph (9.7 km/h) along a 600 ft (183 m) track to another tower at the far end. Upon arriving at this other tower the vehicle was switched to a return track… or “switched back” (hence the name).

This track design was soon replaced with an oval complete-circuit ride designed by Charles Alcoke and called the Serpentine Railway. In 1885 Phillip Hinkle developed a lift system which appeared in his ride called Gravity Pleasure. The Gravity Pleasure also featured cars in which the passengers could face forward instead of in the awkward bench-like seats of the first two roller coasters.