Our archives are filled with terrifying things -- flying tanks, radium faucets, and groundbreaking lobotomy techniques, to name a couple -- but few of them are as deliberately scary as the past century's amusement park rides and attractions. With names like The Wastebasket of Dizziness, The Ring of Death, and the Corkscrew of Fate, how could they not instill terror in even the most seasoned roller coaster enthusiasts?
The early 20th century saw the Golden Age of Roller Coasters, as well as the peak of Coney Island's popularity. As amusement parks flourished, so did our interest in thrill rides. How did engineers prevent roller coaster cars from toppling off the track? How did the Parachute Jump ensure soft, and not splattered, landings? And why would anybody want to roller skate down a loop-the-loop?
Click to launch the photo gallery.
Thrill rides aren't everyone's cup of tea, least of all Popular Science writer George Worts, whose article titled "A Dozen Ways of Breaking Your Neck" ascribed people's love for roller coasters to their suicidal tendencies. Consider his description of the Corkscrew of Fate: "Centrifugal force holds the ball to the rails, and it whirls around and around in the spiral, rolling out at the end against a cushioned bumper, where the occupant emerges, a sadder and wiser, if not a broken, man.
While roller coasters and Rock-O-Planes might be the hallmark of classic amusement parks, they've been good at accommodating patrons with mellower tendencies. Coney Island visitors could watch a zeppelin air raid show between thrill rides, while those in need of a little exercise could cart around a gas-powered aluminum horse with wheels.
And if you couldn't get enough of the amusement park, well, you could always assemble a roller coaster or a merry-go-round out of secondhand lumber and leftover skate wheels. While our backyard carnival DIY projects were geared more toward children than to adults, there's no better way to cultivate a love for roller coasters in one's offspring than to build them one yourself.
Click through our gallery to see the Rock-O-Plane, the Parachute Jump, the roller skate loop the loop, and fun attractions from our magazine's history.
And the fun continues: earlier this year we looked at the inner workings of the world's fastest roller coaster.