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.