Written by: Staff Monday, September 26th, 2011 .
The late 1970s saw many critical innovations in roller coaster design that would make the high-tech coasters of today possible. In 1959, Arrow Dynamics laid the early groundwork for these innovations when they introduced the tubular steel track in Disneyland’s Matterhorn Bobsleds. It was sixteen years later, in 1975, that they unveiled a totally new twist in roller coaster design that would forever change the way people thought about what a roller coaster could do: enter the Corkscrew.
Prior to the roller coaster boom of the 1970s, there had been various attempts at turning riders upside down over the course of a ride. The first ride to feature an inverted section was the Centrifugal Railway in Paris, France. Built in 1848, this ride featured a 43-foot drop into a 13-foot diameter loop. The problem with this ride and others like it, such as Coney Island’s Flip-Flap Railway (1898), was the tremendous amount of g-force produced by a vertical loop. The g-force could get so high as to snap riders’ necks. This was enough to instill a skepticism towards looping rides in the public and they soon fell out of fashion.
Roller coaster innovation of this type was further hindered by the Great Depression and WWII. Enthusiasm and financial backing for amusement parks dropped off after the 1920s and it wasn’t until the 1970s that a legitimate roller coaster boom was sparked. With so much excitement once again surrounding roller coasters, Arrow Dynamics decided to tackle the loop. Already well experienced with steel roller coasters, it was just a matter of coming up with a smooth and safe design. Arrow Engineer Karl Bacon had already begun tinkering with the idea of the Corkscrew as early as 1969, but his work was shelved for a few years as Arrow focused on other projects. When Arrow picked up the idea again, they started with a one-tenth scale model of a spiraling loop. After successful testing on the one-tenth scale, they then built the full size version, which would be installed at Knott’s Berry Farm in 1975.
The ride doesn’t feature much else besides the spiraling corkscrew section: just a few U-turns and the initial 70-foot drop. However, it was the most successful roller coaster inversion to date and opened up new doors for the industry. The Corkscrew sent riders through two loops, one after the other, and as the years passed, Arrow would continue to add more inversions, such as the Corkscrew in Cedar Point with three inversions. Today, the original Corkscrew now resides at Silverwood Theme Park after a 15 year run at Knott’s Berry Farm. Although it is tiny compared to many of the other roller coasters at Silverwood, none of them would have been possible with out the success of Arrow’s Corkscrew.