La Marcus Adna Thompson 1848 to 1919
Born in Jersey, Ohio on 8th. March 1848, he was the eighth of ten children. From an early age he had designed and built toys and invented farm equipment. Even at the age of seventeen he was condsidered to be a master carpenter, building farms without help. He went on to devise seemless hosiery, and by 1877 had formed a partnership in a mill making scarfs and mittens etc. During the early 1880’s ill health forced Thompson to sell-up and follow another path. Inventing amusement riding machines became his passion. On 13th. June 1884 he opened his Switchback Gravity Railway at Coney Island, Brooklyn NY. This really was the birth of the roller coaster that we recognise today. This rather basic ‘out ‘n’ back’ amusement ride was however very profitable, and enquiries started to amount to firm orders. Although many of these Switchback Railways were built for clients by Thompson, competition began to erode this avenue of business. Thompson began to design his next amusement sensation – the Scenic Railway. By 1887 he had perfected his new and most memorable attraction. Steam driven cables would haul articulated passenger trains up inclines and release themalong the tracks. But
the REAL attraction was the ornate scenery and lights that Thompson placed alongside the tracks. The passenger cars tripped flood-lights that illuminated elaborate tableaus and grottos. This attraction opened in Atlantic City in 1887 and was an immediate success. Worldwide firm orders for these Scenic Railways were quick in arriving. Each new version of the attraction became more elaborate than its’ predecessor. Stage artists were hired to produce ever new effects. By 1910 ‘mountains’ had been included and even Egyptian pyramids, temples and biblical scenes were featured. Often in poor health, Thompson retired in 1915. By this time he had become a worldwide personality with offices in London covering the European market. He died on 8th. May 1919. He is rightfully considered to be ‘The Father of the Gravity Ride’.
All Pictures Courtesy EAI Picture Library – All Rights Reserved