For specific attractions called Roller Coaster or similar, see Roller Coaster.
The roller coaster is an amusement park attraction that is essentially a specialized railway system. LaMarcus Adna Thompson obtained a patent on January 20, 1885 for what would become the first "proper" roller coaster, the Scenic Railway. Origins of the roller coaster date back further however, to the fifteenth-century, when people would ride so-called "Russian mountains". In many languages, the phrase for roller coaster means "Russian Mountains".
It consists of a track made of either steel or wood that rises, descends and twists in designed patterns, sometimes with one or more inversions that briefly turn riders upside-down. Usually, the track forms a complete-circuit, however some roller coasters, called shuttle roller coasters, don't form a complete circuit meaning that the train has to travel backwards to reach the station, where riders get on and off the ride.
To ride the roller coaster, passengers are restrained in cars, usually in a sitting position. Most roller coasters use trains, which consist of multiple cars hooked together. Traversing the track generates forces on the riders, such as air-time and lateral-g's. This, along with the height and mechanics, makes the roller coaster popular among the public and roller coaster enthusiasts.
Full article History of the Roller Coaster
The oldest roller coasters are believed to have been Russian ice slides known as "Russian Mountains". These large wooden structures, up to 70 feet tall, were popular throughout Russia in the 16th and 17th centuries. Riders would use a wooden sled or block of ice and slide down the ice-covered hill at up to 50 mph crash-land into a sand pile at the bottom. The term "Russian mountain" is still used to refer to roller coasters in most of the Romance languages. Interestingly, in Russia, roller coasters are called "American mountains".
An unknown amount of time later, the French developed an all-season version of the ice slides by waxing the sled runners. Eventually, someone swapped wheels for runners, and more ambitious and thrilling tracks were created. In 1817 someone attached the carts to the tracks and dubbed the ride "Les Montagnes Russes à Belleville" (The Russian Mountains of Belleville). It had two tracks that ran next to each other, so riders could race and onlookers could bet on the outcome.
Scenic Gravity Railroads
In 1827, a mining company in Summit Hill, Pennsylvania constructed Mauch Chunk Gravity Railroad, an 8.7 mile (14 kilometer) downhill track used to deliver coal to Mauch Chunk (now known as Jim Thorpe), Pennsylvania, USA. By the 1850s, the "Gravity Road" (as it became known) was providing rides to thrill-seekers for 50 cents a ride. Railway companies used similar tracks to provide amusement on days when ridership was low.
Using this idea as a basis, LaMarcus Adna Thompson began work on a Gravity Switchback Railway that opened at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York in 1884. Passengers climbed to the top of a platform and rode a bench-like car down the 600 foot (180 meter) track up to the top of another tower where the vehicle was switched to a return track and the passengers took the return trip. This track design was soon replaced with an oval complete circuit. In 1885, Phillip Hinkle introduced the first full-circuit coaster with a lift hill, the ride was called Gravity Pleasure Road, and was soon the most popular attraction at Coney Island. Not to be outdone, in 1886 LaMarcus Adna Thompson patented his design of roller coaster that included dark tunnels with painted scenery. "Scenic Railways" were soon found in amusement parks across the county, with Frederick Ingersoll's construction company building many of them in the first two decades of the 20th century.
There are several explanations of the name roller coaster. It is said to have originated from an early American design where slides or ramps were fitted with rollers over which a sled would coast. This design was abandoned in favor of fitting the wheels to the sled or other vehicles, but the name endured.
Another explanation is that it originated from a ride located in a roller skating rink in Haverhill, Massachusetts in 1887. A toboggan-like sled was raised to the top of a track which consisted of hundreds of rollers. This Roller Toboggan then took off down gently rolling hills to the floor. The inventors of this ride, Stephen E. Jackman and Byron B. Floyd, claim that they were the first to use the term "roller coaster".
Often in Japan, roller coasters are called "Jet Coasters", where such amusement ride is very popular.
In many languages, the name refers to "Russian mountains". Contrastingly, in Russian, they are called "American mountains". In Scandinavian languages, the roller coaster is referred as "mountain-and-valley railway"
Most roller coaster cars are not self-powered. Instead, a standard full circuit coaster is pulled up with a chain or cable along the lift hill to the first peak of the coaster track. When the train falls down the first drop, its collecting speed used to make it over the rest of the track.
Not all roller coasters feature a lift hill, however. The train may be set into motion by a launch mechanism such as a flywheel launch, linear induction motors, linear synchronous motors, hydraulic launch, compressed air launch or drive tire. Such launched roller coasters are capable of reaching higher speeds in a shorter length of track than those featuring a conventional lift hill. Some roller coasters move back and forth along the same section of track; these are known as shuttles and usually run the circuit once with riders moving forwards and then backwards through the same course.
A properly designed coaster under good conditions will have enough speed to complete the entire course, at the end of which brakes bring the train to a complete stop and it is pushed into the station. A brake run at the end of the circuit is the most common method of bringing the roller coaster train to a stop. One notable exception is a powered roller coaster. These rides, instead of being powered by gravity, use one or more motors in the cars to propel the trains along the course. Many do not consider this to be an actual coaster because it breaks rule four.
When a train launcher does not have enough potential energy to launch the train to the top of an incline, the train is said to "roll back." On some modern coasters, such as Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, Kingda Ka in Jackson, New Jersey and Xcelerator at Knotts berry farm in California, this is an occurrence highly sought after by many coaster enthusiasts