Nothing is better than riding a roller coaster. It packs thrill and fun into one and is the perfect joy ride. But how did roller coasters come about? The predecessor or precursors to roller coasters were the Russian Mountains. They were specially constructed hills of snow located in the gardens of palaces around the Russian capital, Saint Petersburg, in the 18th century. This attraction was called a Katalnaya Gorka or ‘sliding mountain’ in Russian. Russians Mountains were extremely popular with the Russian upper class. Catherine II of Russia even had a few slides built on her own property!
Some historians believe the first real roller coaster was built under the orders of James the 3rd in the Gardens of Oreinbaum in St. Petersburg in 1784. Others believe that the first roller coaster was built by the French.
Hills of Ice
Russian Mountains were sometimes up to 200 feet tall but were generally built to a height of between 70 and 80 feet. They also had a 50-degree initial slope and had wooden supports as reinforcements. Sometimes wooden carts were also used. Gradually, they became popular in other parts of the world and inspired new designs. By the late 18th century, entrepreneurs elsewhere began copying the concept and began using wheeled carts built on tracks. Les Montagnes Russes (The Russian Mountains) was the first wheeled ride and was brought to Paris in 1804.
Consequently, even today a number of languages use the equivalent of ‘Russian Mountains’ to refer to roller coasters. It is noteworthy that when the ‘true’ roller coasters appeared in Russia in the 19th Century, they were known as ‘American Mountains’. This is because the roller coaster – as it is today – was actually developed in the United States of America. Despite the groundwork having been laid in Europe.
The roller coaster technology evolved in the 19th century to feature railroad track using wheeled cars that were securely locked to the track. Newer innovations emerged in the early 20th century with side friction and under-friction technologies to allow for greater speeds and sharper turns. By the mid-to-late 20th century, these elements intensified with the introduction of steel roller coaster designs and the ability for them to invert riders.