Coney Island History: Roller Coasters, Shows and Attractions (c. 1905)
Click any ticket image for detailed information on the ride, attraction or amusement park!
The Invention of the Roller Coaster at Coney Island
In 1884, LaMarcus Adna (L.A.) Thompson invented the first modern roller coaster and built it at West Brighton, Coney Island. Its entrance was on the east side of the Sea Beach Palace. It was wooden structure with steel rails, and extended in a north-south direction for two hundred yards, without turns. Passengers would ascend stairs and enter a car, which, when filled, would proceed by gravity northward in an undulating ride. At the far end, which was the lowest point of the ride, they would emerge and again go up some stairs to where the car had been hauled by steam-powered cables. The passengers would then reenter the car for the return trip. It became a very popular ride, and several cars were attached for a single ride.
This roller coaster design was further developed by Charles Alcoke, who devised an oval gravity ride which did away with the necessity of having to get out of the car and climb stairs. Instead of a straight ride, he added banked turns, which made for a continuous ride, required less distance, and was more economical, for there were no time-consuming interruptions.
Thompson adopted Alcoke's improvement and got some top artists to create scenery to be placed along the course of the ride. Thus, when the coaster would go into one of its steep dives through a gap in a mountain, the proximity of the scene flashing by would give added effect to the speed of the descent.
Thompson's 'Scenic Railways', as they were called, came to be in such great demand, both at Coney Island and throughout the United States, that he organized a company of artists and engineers to build them. All of these rides operated by gravity, just like modern ones, except that now the original ascent of the cars to the first height is powered by electricity, instead of steam.
How these Tickets were Printed
What better way to attract customers and advertise your roller coaster than to give your customers elaborate color tickets they can fasten to their shirts or wrists and then tuck away in a scrapbook as mementos when they get home, to show their friends later?
During the first decade of the 1900s, many of the amusement rides at Coney Island, including some of the concessions within the major amusement parks and even entire roller coasters outside of the amusement parks, were owned by entrepreneurs who competed fiercely for the nickels and dimes of potential customers along Surf Avenue and the Bowery. Every ride promised to be the best in the world.
In the late 1880s, poster advertising artists in France like Jules Cheret perfected the stone lithographic printing technique. Prior to then, it was more cost efficient to pay children to hand-color books, maps and tickets than to automate the process. Cheret's technique had long set-up times and costs, but was more economical than hand-coloring, assuming enough copies were made. Highly-skilled artists etched multiple versions of the image into different stones or plates, one for each color that they wanted to overlay. A poster would then be laid on a stone, printed with one color, allowed to dry, and then laid on the next stone to superimpose the next color. This created beautiful, rich colors.
The roller coaster tags above were printed on sheets of thin cardboard and then stamped out. Up to four different colors would be printed onto a single sheet, each one at a time, manually. If you look closely at these tickets, you will see imperfections from the printers not lining up the cutting die or successive colors perfectly. The Ben Hur Racers tag contains a close-up showing how dots of different colors.
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