Once upon a time, weekends meant buying tickets for carousels and wooden roller coasters, the biggest and best being on New York’s Coney Island. According to the National Amusement Park Historical Association, the turn-of-the-century hosted more than 2,000 parks around the United States — a demand that coincided with the growth of the railways as owners brainstormed ways to foster weekend demand.
As such, “trolley parks” were built at the end of the lines, thus incentivizing passengers to buy weekend tickets and transforming each park into a recreational playground. The 1920s were the golden age for amusement parks, though their popularity would be short-lived.
The coming Depression, World War II and outbreaks of fire would cause many amusement parks to shutter, while new inventions like automobiles and movies competed for young America’s attention. According to NAPHA, only 13 of America’s original amusement parks would reach their 125th birthday. An even smaller number are still open today, but those that remain provide a classic take on good, old-fashioned fun.
Buckle up for a roller coaster ride down memory lane!
10. Coney Island, New York
This Brooklyn atoll is basically where America’s obsession with amusement parks got started, as three competing firms – Luna Park, Dreamland, and Steeplechase Park – rolled out a series of novelty carnival rides, many of which would go on to be replicated across the country. Of these was the Switchback Gravity Pleasure Railway, which is widely regarded as America’s first roller coaster, opened in 1884.
This ultimately paved the way for the Cyclone, which remains one of the country’s oldest wooden roller coasters since debuting in 1927, even making the national registry of historic landmarks. Once the country’s largest entertainment zone, Coney Island drew millions of visitors per year from the late 1800s to the outbreak of World War II.