Roller Coasters Were Made to Keep Americans From Debauchery

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Roller Coasters Were Made to Keep Americans From Debauchery


Roller coasters have become a big part of amusement parks since their humble beginnings in the early 18th century. Now, they are the centerpiece of almost every amusement park in the world; so much so that no amusement park is perceived complete without some kind of roller coaster. They can be heart-stoppingly big or adorably small. 

But before they ascended to the amusement park hall of fame, the purpose of roller coasters was initially not really for fun. 


Enjoying the roller coaster ride / Photo by: Getty Images via The Vintage News


According to Matthew Gaskill of The Vintage News, roller coasters have been built to lead Americans away from immoral behavior. 

As the story goes that in the late 1800s, people deemed immoral acts so distressing that they were scrambling to find something to supplement tavern visits, gambling, dancing hall activities as well as the frequent visits of patrons to brothels. The plan was to create a distraction big enough to draw crowds away from the world of vice. 

LaMarcus Adna Thompson, conservative and the one most concerned about the spread of immorality brought about by the “increasingly wealthy and urban culture developing in the country,” decided to take matters into his own hands when he was inspired by “people riding an old mining railway -- for fun” on one Pennsylvania trip. 


Roller coaster planning / Photo by: C.S. Fly via The Vintage News


Feeling greatly inspired, he took these same ideas back with him and recreated the same idea for a smaller version. He kept the switchback railway used to power the ride later in the 19th century and added other features to make sure that the ride was as updated as he could make it. He used a ratchet system that would prevent the trains from backsliding, as well as the “now familiar wooden frame structure.” 

From there, it was just a matter of getting people to focus on these rides instead of their vices, which was also surprisingly easier to do. Although the fine print was this: Thompson might have succeeded and gotten the audience hooked on the ride shortly after he unveiled it, but it did nothing to cull either beer sales or the culture of debauchery. 


Roller coaster construction / Photo by: The Vintage News