Great Moments
in Amusement Park History

An Amusement Park History Timeline


Pleasure Gardens begin to appear in Europe. These were the first permanent areas set aside specifically for outdoor entertainment. The attractions included fountains, flower gardens, bowling, games, music, dancing, staged spectacles and a few primitive amusement rides.


Large ice slides, supported by heavy timbers, become popular as a wintertime diversion in Russia, with the most elaborate being in St. Petersburg. Small wooden sleds used iron runners to glide down the slides. These simple amusements were the forerunner of today's roller coasters.


The pleasure garden is exported to America with the opening of Vauxhall Gardens in New York City.  By the early 1800s, it is home to one of the first carousels in the country.


Coney Island is linked to New York City via roadway and the first hotel opens, launching the growth of America’s most legendary amusement area.


The first looping gravity railway is exhibited at Frascati Gardens, in Paris, France. The French called the device Chemin du Centrifuge.


With the completion of the first railroad, Coney Island is fast becoming popular as a seaside resort.

Coney's most popular attractions were located in pavilions built near the water, including cabaret entertainment, vaudeville acts, melodramas, fortune tellers, games, and rides such as small carousels.


LaMarcus A. Thompson introduces his Switchback Gravity Pleasure Railway at Coney Island. This device is recognized as the first true roller coaster in America although several similar attractions had already opened, such as the Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway.


The first electric-powered street railway opens in Richmond, Virginia.  Soon hundreds of trolley lines are constructed around the country. To maximize revenue, operators sought ways to attract riders during the lightly used periods of evenings and weekends.  Amusement parks, typically built at the end of the trolley lines, provided an ideal solution. “Trolley parks” spread rapidly throughout America offering picnic facilities, dance halls, restaurants, games, and a few amusement rides.


Lina Beecher of NY constructs America's first vertical looping roller coaster in Toledo. It is later relocated to New York's Coney Island. Some imitation rides, such as the Loop the Loop on Young's Pier in Atlantic City (pictured).


Chicago's Columbian Exposition introduces the famous George Ferris Giant Wheel. A true wonder of the then-modern world, the first Ferris wheel weighed in at over 4 million lbs. and was 264 feet high.

Also introduced at the Columbian Exposition was the first true midway, known as the Midway Plaisance (or White City Midway). The Exposition’s ornate building facades and brilliant electric lights dictated amusement park design for the next 60 years.


Chutes Park in Chicago opens. Built by Captain Paul Boyton, Chutes Park was the first amusement park to be enclosed and charge admission. After relocating in 1896, Chutes Park closed in 1908. The park served as a model for Sea Lion Park at New York's Coney Island.


Captain Paul Boyton's Sea Lion Park opens at Coney Island. Sea Lion Park inspired numerous amusement parks throughout the United States, including the three great Coney Island parks: Luna Park (1903-47), Dreamland (1904-11), and Steeplechase (1897-1964).


Thompson and Dundy's Luna Park opens on May 16th at Coney Island. The electrical "Arabian Nights" style of architecture attracted over 40,000 patrons that first evening. Luna Park burned down in 1947.


By this date, more than 2,000 amusement parks are operating throughout the US.


Many parks close, due to the invention of the automobile and interest in new attractions such as motion pictures.


This is the golden age of amusement parks. Many larger cities had as many as six. Competition spawns a building boom that lasted until the end of the decade. Many of the best roller coasters of all time were built during this period by John A. Miller.


John Miller patents his design for the underfriction roller coaster wheel. This new method of holding the coaster to the tracks would revolutionize the roller coaster, safely allowing for steeper drops and faster speeds.