Oldest Roller Coasters in the World

10 Oldest Roller Coasters in the World

Roller coasters are some of the best attractions at any amusement parks and many people even travel around the world in an effort to ride every thrilling coaster available. While today’s high-speed coasters feature stomach churning drops and loops and sharp turns, the oldest roller coasters in the world are a little more relaxed.

Most of the oldest roller coasters are wooden and reach speeds of no more than 45 mph (72 km/h). All of these roller coasters date back to the early 20th century and have mostly been in continuous operation since then. Additionally, while all of these roller coasters have had renovations, they all retain the original spirit of the rides.

10. Montaña Suiza

Year Opened: 1928
Location:  Monte Igueldo Amusement Park in San Sebastián, Spain
Designer/Builder:  Erich Heidrich
Type:  Steel
Length and Speed:  1,312.3 ft (400 m); 31 mph (50 km/h)

Montaña Suizaphoto source: Flickr via Roller Coaster Philosophy

While the Montaña Suiza may not necessarily be a thrilling roller coaster by today’s standards, it is reportedly the world’s oldest steel roller coaster. The Montaña Suiza was built in 1928 by German engineer Erich Heidrich at the Monte Igueldo Amusement Park in San Sebastián, Spain.

The cars of the Montaña Suiza are wooden and they’re on a steel framework that run on steel tracks. Part of the Montaña Suiza is also made out of concrete and the original wooden track was converted to steel at an unknown date.

Did You Know?

While the Montaña Suiza can supposedly go faster, according to accounts from riders, the roller coaster runs very slowly and the cars have no restraints.

9. Thunderhawk

Year Opened: May 18, 1923
Location:  Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdon in Allentown, Pennsylvania
Designer/Builder:  Herbert Paul Schmeck and Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters
Type:  Wooden
Length and Speed:  2,767 ft (843 m); 45 mph (72 km/h)

Thunderhawkphoto source: Wikimedia Commons via Chris Hagerman

Formerly known as The Coaster, Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom’s Thunderhawk is one of the oldest roller coasters in the northeastern part of the United States. Thunderhawk was designed by Herbert Paul Schmeck and built by Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters, whom Schmeck designed 84 coasters for.

The Coaster’s name was changed to the Thunderhawk in 1989 when a second roller coaster, the Hercules, was added to the park.

Over the years, the Thunderhawk has had many cosmetic and structural changes. Most recently, in 2016, Dorney Park made major renovations to the Thunderhawk, including new trains designed by Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters, which is still manufacturing roller coasters.

Did You Know?

From 1961 until his sudden death in 2001, a carpenter named Paul “Shorty” Hottenstein mainted the Thunderhawk’s structure. Following Hottenstein’s death, a plaque was placed at the coaster’s station honoring his work.

8. Big Dipper

Year Opened: 1923
Location:  Blackpool Pleasure Beach in Blackpool, England
Designer/Builder:  William Strickler and John A. Miller
Type:  Wooden
Length and Speed:  3,300 ft (1,000 m); 40 mph (64 km/h)

Big Dipperphoto source: Wikimedia Commons via Norms360

Blackpool Pleasure Beach is one of England’s most popular amusement parks and the Big Dipper is one of its star attractions. The Big Dipper was built in 1923 by William Strickler and John A. Miller and was later modified in 1935, 1936, and 1953. Not only is the Big Dipper an historic English site, it is also the site of a Guinness World Record set by Richard Rodriguez for the longest marathon on a roller coaster.

In 2017, the Big Dipper was added to the UK English Heritage site because it was the first under-friction roller coaster in Europe. Additionally, despite its later changes, which have complemented and enhanced the ride, the Big Dipper remains mostly the same as it did when it debuted in 1923.

Did You Know?

When the Big Dipper first opened, it cost a full shilling per ride, which locals felt was too expensive. To play up the “luxury” of the Big Dipper, a marble and mahogany paydesk was added to the coaster’s station as well as an Italian terrazzo floor.

7. Roller Coaster

Year Opened: 1921
Location:  Lagoon Amusement Park in Farmington, Utah, USA
Designer/Builder:  John A. Miller
Type:  Wooden
Length and Speed:  2,500 ft (762 m); 45 mph (72 km/h)

Roller Coasterphoto source: Wikimedia Commons via Ntsimp

The Roller Coaster or White Roller Coaster of Lagoon Amusement Park in Utah is one of the oldest roller coasters in the United States. Lagoon’s Roller Coaster was built in 1921 by John A. Miller, the “father of the modern high-speed roller coaster.”

While most of the Roller Coaster is original, a fire in 1953 damaged the station and lift hill, which were later rebuilt. The Roller Coaster has also had new trains installed from time to time, most recently in 2018. Also in 2018, the Roller Coaster’s entrance was moved where the original exit was, but this has not changed the ride experience.

Did You Know?

Through no fault of the park or the Roller Coaster’s design, a few fatal accidents have occurred on the Roller Coaster, including the death of a teenage girl in 1989 when she stood up on the ride and the death of a man named Henry Howe in 1934 – Howe attempted to stand up on the Roller Coaster at its highest hill.

6. Scenic Railway

Year Opened: July 3, 1920
Location:  Dreamland Amusement Park in Margate, England
Designer/Builder:  LaMarcus A. Thomson and John Henry Iles
Type:  Wooden
Length and Speed:  3,000 ft (910 m); 35 mph (56 km/h)

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Peet13

The Scenic Railway at Dreamland Amusement Park in Margate, England is the oldest roller coaster in the United Kingdom. This nearly 100-year old British roller coaster was built by John Henry Iles, who had bought the the European usage rights to the scenic railway from LaMarcus Adna Thompson (Thompson had first patented the scenic railway type of roller coaster in 1884).

Iles had opened Dreamland two months before the Scenic Railway made its debut and Iles had named the park after Coney Island, New York’s Dreamland. The Scenic Railway was so popular when it debuted that 1 million people rode the roller coaster during its first season.

The Scenic Railway has had  several renovations over the years because of fires and age. From 2006 – 2015, the Scenic Railway was closed down following Dreamland’s major renovation and an arson attack on the coaster. As of the time of this writing, Dreamland and the Scenic Railway have been reopened.

Did You Know?

Despite its most recent major renovations, the Scenic Railway is a UK English Heritage site due to its rarity as one of the few scenic railway roller coasters and its historical significance.

5. Jack Rabbit

Year Opened: 1920
Location:  Kennywood Park in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, USA
Designer/Builder:  John A. Miller and Harry C. Baker
Type:  Wooden
Length and Speed:  2,132 ft (650 m); 45 mph (72 km/h)

Jack Rabbitphoto source: Wikimedia Commons via Larry Pieniazek

The Jack Rabbit was first built by John A. Miller and Harry C. Baker in 1920 at Kennywood Park in Pennsylvania. The coaster was built not long after Miller patented a new track design, which all wooden coasters built since then have used. Miller’s design allowed him to put a 70-foot (21 meter) drop on the Jack Rabbit, which was the world’s highest drop at the time.

The current trains of the Jack Rabbit only date back to 1951 and were designed by Edward Vettel, Sr. When the newer trains were first added, the Jack Rabbit’s popular tunnel had to be removed, but it was added back in at a shorter length in 1991.

Did You Know?

The Jack Rabbit is the world’s only double dip roller coaster – this means that there is a drop, followed by a small flat, which leads to another drop.

4. The Wild One

Year Opened: 1917
Location:  Six Flags America in Prince George’s County, Maryland, USA
Designer/Builder:  John A. Miller and Herbert Schmeck
Type:  Wooden
Length and Speed:  4,000 ft (1,200 m); 53 mph (85 km/h)

The Wild Onephoto source: Wikimedia Commons via John Athayde

The Wild One at Six Flags America was not actually introduced to the theme park until 1986. However, the Wild One originally opened in 1917 as the Giant Coaster in Paragon Park in  Hull, Massachusetts. Paragon Park shut down in 1985, but managed to sell the Giant Coaster to Wild World, which is now Six Flags America.

According to an amusement park historian, the only parts of the Wild One that may be original are the trains, the motor, and the lift chain. Paragon Park did also hand over the coaster’s blueprints, so Six Flags rebuilt the roller coaster to the original specifications. 

Did You Know?

Six Flags America celebrated the Wild One’s 100th birthday in 2017 and said that while old wooden coasters are expensive and difficult to maintain, the park does not plan to make any changes to the “classic, living piece of history.”

3. Rutschebanen

Year Opened: 1914
Location:  Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark
Designer/Builder:  LaMarcus A. Thomson
Type:  Wooden
Length and Speed:  2,362.2 ft (720 m); 31.1 mph (50 km/h)

Rutschebanenphoto source: Wikimedia Commons via Leif Jørgensen

Rutschebanen, simply called the Roller Coaster by Tivoli Gardens is the oldest roller coaster in Europe, dating back to 1914. While the age of Rutschebanen might be impressive, Tivoli Gardens had already been operating for over seven decades before Rutschebanen made its debut — Tivoli Gardens opened in 1843 and is the world’s second oldest amusement park still in operation.

To foreign visitors, the Rutschebanen may look very similar to Disney’s famous Matterhorn roller coaster. This is no coincidence as Disney took inspiration from Tivoli Gardens. Like the Great Scenic Railway in Luna Park, Rutschebanen is still manually operated by a brakeman.

Did You Know?

Rustchebanen is the last remaining roller coaster that was LaMarcus A. Thompson’s company; Thompson is the father of the modern roller coaster and received the patent for it.

2. The Great Scenic Railway

Year Opened: December 1912
Location:  Luna Park in Melbourne, Australia
Designer/Builder:  Unknown
Type:  Wooden
Length and Speed:  3,172.57 ft (967 m); 37.28 mph (60 km/h)

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Although Leap-the-Dips is older, the Great Scenic Railway of Luna Park in Melbourne, Australia bills itself as the world’s oldest continually operating roller coaster. The Great Scenic Railway is not only one of the oldest roller coasters in the world, it is also one of the oldest attractions at Luna Park — the roller coaster opened along with the park in December 1912.

Along with a few other coasters, the Great Scenic Railway is one of the only roller coasters that still require a brakeman to stand in the middle of the train. The Great Scenic Railway was built using Canadian Oregon pine and its track is 3,172.57 feet (967 meters) long.

Did You Know?

The Great Scenic Railway was only temporarily closed following a derailment in 1989 that injured 20 people.

1. Leap-the-Dips

Year Opened: 1902
Location:  Lakemont Park in Altoona, Pennsylvania, USA
Designer/Builder:  Edward Joy Morris
Type:  Wooden
Length and Speed:  1,452 ft (443 m); 10 mph (16 km/h)

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Bhakta Dano

First built in 1902 in Lakemont Park near Altoona, Pennsylvania, the Leap-the-Dips is the oldest roller coaster in the world. Leap-the-Dips was designed by Edward Joy Morris and constructed by the Federal Construction Company.

While Leap-the-Dips is the oldest, it has not been in continuous operation. In 1985, Leap-the-Dips was shutdown over concerns of the old coaster’s structural integrity and a lack of maintenance funds. Following the closure and near demolition of Leap-the-Dips the American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) organization formed the Leap The Dips Foundation, which worked to re-open/restore the roller coaster. The Leap-the-Dips’ restoration began in 1997 and it was reopened to the public in 1999.

Did You Know?

Leap-the-Dips is believed to be the last remaining side friction roller coaster of the figure-eight variety in the world.


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