Aug. 16 is Roller Coaster Day in the United States. It is not entirely certain why this date was chosen, but the most commonly accepted explanation is that this was the date that Edwin Prescott received the patent for the first vertical-loop roller coaster in 1898. Roller coasters have undergone an extensive evolution since that time to keep thrill-seekers coming back for more. Therefore, throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, roller coasters remain a consistently popular form of entertainment.
History of Roller Coasters
Prescott's patented invention was the first roller coaster as we know them today. However, early versions of the roller coaster have existed since at least the 18th century. In Russia, people built special hills of ice reinforced with wood, which they would slide down on sleds or wheeled carts. Fortunately, roller coasters today are much safer even though they reach much faster speeds and have looped tracks.
The earliest roller coasters in the United States resembled railway tracks on which special cars would ride. The first American roller coaster opened in New York at Coney Island in 1884. Within 15 years, amusement parks in cities all over the country had their own roller coasters. One of the oldest roller coasters still in operation in the United States is the Leap-the-Dips in Altoona, Pennsylvania. It was built in 1902 and only reaches speeds of 10 miles per hour. The tallest roller coaster in the world today is the Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey.
Science of Roller Coasters
Roller coasters work by constantly converting potential energy into kinetic energy. At least in older roller coasters, the first hill was always the tallest so that the cars would accumulate enough potential energy for gravity to pull it the rest of the way along the track. Today, the inertial motion of the cars may be augmented via other mechanical means.
Roller coasters have seatbelts and harnesses to hold you securely in your seat even as the car you are riding in turns upside-down. However, part of what keeps you in your seat is the balance of opposing forces: inertia versus centripetal acceleration. You may have noticed that the loops on a roller coaster are oval-shaped rather than perfectly round. This decreases the amount of force on both passengers and cars to a more comfortable and manageable level while allowing the latter to complete the loop successfully.
Savings for AAA Members
Using AAA Tickets, AAA members can receive discounts of up to 30% attraction tickets.