As part of 2010's National Science and Engineering Week the University Library in collaboration with the National Fairground Archive are celebrating the engineering feats of roller coasters and theme park rides. The following abstract is Part 2 (see Part 1) of a mini-series on the history of going upside-down, compiled by Ian Trowell of the National Fairground Archive.
Braithwaite's "Fairground Architecture" defines the origins of 'joy-riding' in terms of the replication of machines designed for resolving industrial problems and applying them to general amusement. This is seen as a dynamic expressing both the experimental joy of the technological engineer, and the desire of the 'riding public' to be entertained. However, development tended to be towards roundabouts rather than aerial devices.
The Steam Yachts were patented in 1888, the first large-scale ride based on a swinging mechanism, and generally considered as the first 'white knuckle' experience (based on the fact that you have to grip with all your strength). The Steam Yachts heaved slowly back and forth, tipping to the sideways point, and the rider had no choice other than to grip tightly.
US company Eyerly, who traded in pilot-training devices and utopian visions of flight-for-all, developed the next stage of looping. Their 'Loop-o-Plane' was patented in 1935 and their 'Roll-o-Plane' a few years later. The Loop-o-Plane utilised a swinging mechanism, as the transition to a 360 degree swing is realised slowly through friction and clutches. The Roll-o-Plane (or Dive Bomber) was an instant motorised drive through the full circle, though the cars ingeniously rotated on their own axis to avoid a prolonged upside down state. Groundbreaking, but terrifying, experiences.
Neither of these rides were updated until the late 1970s, when German engineers took on the challenge. Bremen based company Huss manufactured the large-scale looping Pirate Ship, effectively opening the floodgates for the genre. The 1980s and 1990s saw large amounts of these rides on the fairgrounds and parks.
Check back tomorrow for Part 3 and remember that the NFA is open Monday to Friday from 9:30 until 16:30 for anyone interested in seeing more of our NSEW activities.