LaMarcus Adna Thompson: The Father of Gravity
Posted by MichaelSimon on Thursday, October 21st, 2010
Born in 1848, LaMarcus Adna Thompson demonstrated an early aptitude for mechanics. By the age of 17, he was a master carpenter. After receiving his degree at Michigan’s Hillsdale College, Thompson worked first in the wagon and carriage industry, then in women’s seamless hosiery, where he made his first fortune, but nearly ruined his health.
Thompson then turned his attention to roller coasters, perhaps inspired by the Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway in Pennsylvania. Thompson decided to undertake building his own switchback, and in 1884, Thompson’s Gravity Pleasure Switchback Railway opened at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York.
History has dubbed Thompson the “Father of Gravity,” as his coasters relied entirely upon gravity. For the Coney Island attraction, ten people at a time climbed a flight of stairs to a tower where they boarded a train car. Riders then coasted down 600 feet at about 6 miles per hour, then climbed another flight of stairs to a second tower. The train car was “switched back” to a return track, and the riders coasted back to where they began. Thompson’s Switchback Railway was an instant success, earning him hundreds of dollars per day at a nickel per ride.
Thompson registered nearly 30 patents covering coaster technologies, and within four years had built 50 more switchback railway coasters in America and Europe, making him a millionaire. As more advanced coasters appeared, Thompson collaborated with James A. Griffiths to build a new kind of attraction, the Scenic Railway, which opened in 1887 on the Boardwalk of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Focusing on the view from the ride, Thompson delighted in building panoramas of artificial scenery with varying themes. Scenic railways remained his focus until his death in 1919. Thompson truly was a pioneer in the world of roller coasters – as well as a pathfinder for the future of themed attraction.