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The Daily Need

Photo: America goes topsy-turvy

The Loop the Loop coaster in Luna Park at Coney Island in 1903. Photo: Library of Congress

On this day 127 years ago, the first American roller coaster appeared at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. Built by LaMarcus Thompson, the Gravity Pleasure Switchback Railway featured a gentle, wavy hill and traveled at an “invigorating” 6 miles per hour. The coaster car could hold 10 passengers and originally featured sideways seats so riders could enjoy the views. The ride was so popular that the coaster earned $600 daily, at a nickel a ride. It paid for its own construction costs within three weeks.

Other coasters at Coney Island soon followed. The following year in 1885, the Flip-Flap Railway was built, which featured a 30-foot drop and a circular vertical loop. The problem with the ride was that it produced 12 times the force of gravity at the bottom of its loop, or 12 Gs. A modern fighter jet can produce 9 to 12 Gs in a turn. Passengers on the coaster frequently passed out.

The coaster featured in the photo above was the answer to the problematic Flip-Flap. The Loop the Loop, built in 1901, was made of steel instead of wood, and had a larger loop that was an ellipse, which pulled a much smaller g-force than its predecessor. Sadly, riders were wary of the coaster after the reputation of the Flip-Flap. People preferred to watch the ride in action instead of ride it themselves. Owners of the attraction decided to charge people admission to the viewing area, and soon the coaster was making more money by spectators than riders.

So: Which rollercoaster almost made you pass out? What’s your all-time favorite?

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