That idea was then transferred over to Europe in the 17th century, but made of wood instead of ice. The "scenic railways" were much longer than the ice slides and were slightly safer. However, there were still crash incidents every once in a while, but people would never die from the crashes. The crashes, surprisingly, sometimes made the ride more popular so more people would ride it.
During the 1800's, abandoned coal mines and railroad tracks were used in a way similar to today's roller coasters. That idea helped bring up the "true" roller coaster concept. Coney Island was one of the first parks to feature roller coasters. The first ones were very tame, consisting of only two or three hills. As time progressed and competition grew stronger, other features were developed; such as the steeper drops, tighter curves, and lap bars for better restraints (considering they were all wooden coasters during that time).
Rickety Wooden Wonders
Wooden roller coasters were the first roller coasters, starting in the 1920's. There are three types of wooden roller coasters; Twisters, Racers, and Out and Backs.
Twisters were the first wooden roller coasters, and they are still very common. Twisters are used very often because they use up a lot less space then the gigantic out and backs, and usually cost less than the racers. But just because they're smaller and cost less doesn't mean that these twisters aren't exciting. Twisters are famous for nearly colliding with the rails or other parts of track at various points throughout the ride. They also can feature exciting high-speed turns. Those are the key elements needed to make a wooden twister great.
Racers came after the twisters, since they required more complicated design and cost a lot more. Racers are usually a little more popular than twisters and out and backs because they're somewhat rare and when they do appear, they're fantastic. Racers are usually not as complex as twisters because there are two tracks. However, the feel of racing with another train is awesome. The fact that you're within inches of another train filled with people is a little scary, and you know that the screams you hear don't only belong to your train. Racers are indeed different from the ordinary one track roller coaster.
Out and Backs
Out and Backs probably started around the same time as racers. They require by far the most land. Out and Backs usually are great for giving air time and many consecutive drops. They are also a little rare, so they are famous when they come out. Out and Backs are a very different kind of wooden coaster experience.
Steel coasters came much later than wooden roller coasters, appearing in the 1960's. There are more steel coasters now since steel coasters have more abilities than wooden coasters. They can go higher, faster, and can do a wide variety of inversions. There are several divisions of steel coasters; non-inverting, hyper steels, vertical looping steels, corkscrew steels, multi-inversion steels, shoot-outs, reverse-inclines, and boomerangs.
Non-inverting steel roller coasters came in the early 1970's and maybe even in the late 1960's. These steels are now often considered "family rides" since they are no comparison to the thrills and chills of hyper coasters and inverting coasters. However, you will find that almost every park has a non-inverting steel coaster because, in many opinions, it completes the park. A park can't contain ALL thrill roller coasters, because then the park won't appeal to families, which is a theme park's goal. Although there are not too many non-inverting steel roller coasters left, they are still family favorites in every park.
The very first hyper coaster was the "Magnum XL-200" at Cedar Point, which was built in 1989. Magnum has a first hill of 205 feet, and was the first coaster to break the 200 foot-barrier. Ever since the creation of Magnum XL-200, any coaster with a hill or drop exceeding 200 feet has been considered a "hyper coaster". Many hyper coasters have surpassed Magnum in several dimensions over the years, but it is still rated the #1 coaster in the world by various organizations. If there are any hyper coasters that you enjoy today, (i.e. Steel Force, Goliath, Raging Bull, Wild Thing, Desperado, Apollo's Chariot, Batman and Robin: The Chiller, The Pepsi Max Big One, etc.) remember that Magnum started it all.
Hyper coasters are in many parks now, since they are usually huge draws. (For example, after Cedar Point made Magnum XL-200, the park had an astonishing 17% increase in attendance.) Hyper coasters are, in my opinion, probably the most fun roller coasters because their first drops are always gargantuan and sometimes incredibly steep. Also, due to their extreme height, hyper coasters are often over a mile in length. So not only are hyper coasters high and fast, but they are long rides too. Hyper coasters are always guaranteed to be world-class thrills.
Corkscrew Steels were invented in the mid-1970's. They are usually not as high as vertical-looping steels or other kinds, but they are still thrilling. The typical corkscrew steel coaster has an 80-foot drop, several more small drops and 1, 2, or even 3 corkscrews before going back to the station. There are not many steel corkscrew coaster left since they are, although thrilling, no comparison to hyper coasters and multi-inversion coasters.
Vertical Looping Steels
Like corkscrew steels, Vertical looping steels are not very common any longer, with the multi-inversion coasters and the hyper coasters taking in all the fame. However, there are still some very good vertical-looping steel coasters out there (i.e. Loch Ness monster, Revolution, Laser). Vertical loopers usually have several tight twists, turns, and drops, along with the 1,2, or 3 loops throughout the ride. Also, the drops on these coasters usually do not exceed 120 feet, but are often at least 70 feet. In a way, although they are not too common, corkscrew and vertical looping steel coasters are to thank for the multi-inversion monsters of today.
Multi-inversion steels are the most common steel coasters because they are usually not as expensive as hyper steels and are more thrilling than vertical-looping steels, corkscrew steels, and the non-looping steels. There are many famous multi-inversion steel coasters (i.e. The Great American Scream Machine, Kumba, Viper, Corkscrew, Drachen Fire, The Incredible Hulk*, and Anaconda.) Multi-inversion doesn't mean that the coaster has at least 2 inversions; it means that there are several types of inversions included throughout the coaster, such as corkscrews, loops, cobra rolls, etc. Along with the usual sit-down type, there are also multi-inversion stand-up, floorless, and inverted coasters. Most multi-inversion coasters are world-class for their time.
There are several kinds of shoot-out devices used on shoot-out steel coasters, into which we classify them: traditional boosters, LIMs (Linear Induction Motors), and LSMs (Linear Synchronous Motors). Most traditional booster shoot-outs are those you would find on boardwalks, often called "shuttle loops". The first LIM thrill rides* were Intamin's "Superman: The Escape" in Six Flags Magic Mountain and "Tower of Terror" in Australia. (There is a debate whether or not these rides are roller coasters. I think they are the world's biggest thrill rides, not roller coasters for one main reason: they contain no roller coaster elements, except for one drop. There is no doubt that these are amazing rides; but I don't think they qualfiy as roller coasters.) Now there are several more advanced LIM coasters, such as "Batman and Robin: The Chiller" at Six Flags Great Adventure and "Joker's Jinx" in Six Flags Baltimore. Also, there are several LSM roller coasters - "Volcano - The Blast Coaster" in Paramount Kings Dominion (which was also the first shoot-out inverted coaster), "Superman: Ultimate Escape" in Six Flags Ohio, and Linear Gale of Japan. Shoot-out steel coasters are becoming more common every year, since they are very thrilling and don't take up as much space as chain-lift coasters.
The roller coaster designer who is most famous for reverse incline coasters in Anton Schwarzkopf. These rides are similar to shoot-out coasters in that they do not go in a continuous circuit; however, the reverse incline coasters climb a chain lift backwards and drop when they reach the top. These coasters are semi-intense and don't take up much room. A famous example of a Schwarzkopf reverse incline coaster is "Greezed Lightnin'" at Six Flags Astroworld.
The boomerang is a Vekoma-designed reverse incline coaster that goes through a cobra roll or "horseshoe" and a loop. It then goes up to the top of the second incline and travels through the track backwards. These rides are very popular, cramped, and exciting. There are probably at least 30 copies of the boomerang throughout the world today.
Suspenseful Suspendeds and Incredible Inverteds
Suspended and inverted steel coasters are the most current roller coasters. The first suspended coaster was Arrow's "Bat" at Paramount Kings Island. It wasn't too successful, but the idea had begun. Later Vekoma and Bolliger & Mabillard changed the design of the suspended coaster around into an inverted coaster train, thus allowing the roller coaster to perform inversions. So, there are two kinds of suspended coasters: suspended and inverted. (Volcano: the Blast Coaster and Superman Ultimate Escape are under LIMs and LSMs in the steel section, since there aren't too many of them yet.)
Suspended coasters started with Paramount King's Island's "The Bat", designed by Arrow Dynamics. The Bat was not successful due to many mechanical complications, and it was soon replaced. But, thanks to The Bat, the suspended and inverted roller coaster ideas were started. As of now, inverted coasters are more common than suspended coasters. But several suspended coasters are still very good, such as Busch Gardens Williamsburg's "Big Bad Wolf" and Cedar Point's "Iron Dragon". However, unless an amazing new feature is added to the suspended coaster idea, it will probably never become too popular.
Inverted coasters were taken from the suspended coaster idea, and the design was changed so that the train could go through inversions. This idea was mainly taken by Vekoma, famous for its inverted boomerangs and SLCs, and Bolliger & Mabillard, which have made many world class inverted coasters (including Busch Gardens Williamsburg's Alpengeist, Busch Gardens Tampa's Montu, Cedar Point's Raptor, Batman: the Ride found in many Six Flags Parks, and Nemesis in Alton Towers). Inverted coasters are more thrilling than suspended coasters because they can go faster, be built higher, and, as stated earlier, go through inversions.
The Expanding Horizon
While new roller coaster marvels appear each year, 2000 was easily one of the most competitive, unique, and expansive. This year we entered the giga-coaster realm with Millennium Force and Steel Dragon 2000, and wood coasters could now reach hyper-coaster level and do loopswith Son of Beast. Flying coasters have debuted, and Thrust Air 2000 has blown us away, figuratively and literally. The first impulse coaster has been produced, and coasters are now reaching speeds in excess of 90 mph. Records are constantly being broken, and if this height/speed race keeps up, we should have a 400 foot coaster in a couple of years. If the upcoming years are even half as good as the 2000 season, we are in for a real treat.