Before steel roller coasters became popular in places like Cedar Point and Six Flags, wooden roller coasters had the juice. The Thunderbolt (Kennywood Amusement Park) and the Cyclone (Coney Island) are classics, but they wouldn't be here today without the Switchback Railway, period.
On this date in 1884, approximately where the Cyclone stands now (West 10th & Surf Avenue) the first American roller coaster opened. LaMarcus Thompson named his ride the Switchback Railway after a coal mining train that triggered his vision. For a nickel people experienced the thrill of going 6 miles per hour up and down Surf Avenue for a solid minute. Even though riding at that pace wouldn't have the same effect now, people were ecstatic over this new way to roll.