Many of the world’s first theme parks began life as areas of natural beauty where crowds would gather. Often the owners would install games and attractions in order to entertain their visitors and attract more. In American cities, tram companies would also build amusement parks at the end of their tram lines in order to get people to ride during weekends.
The oldest theme park in the world is Bakken, which first opened in 1583 and is still one of Denmark’s most visited attractions today. Dyrehaven (the deer garden), the former royal hunting ground where Bakken lies, became popular after a local lady Kirsten Pill discovered a natural spring which was said to cure all kinds of illnesses. After King Frederik V opened Dyrehaven to the public in 1756, entertainers and street performers flocked to the area in the hope of making money out of the gathering crowds.
As the years rolled by, so did the amusements. The biggest changes to the shape of the theme park over the centuries came from the technological developments that have taken place.
The Roller Coaster
The roller coaster traces its history to the Russian ice slides of the 1600s. Wooden structures were covered in ice and riders would slide down them. Katherine the Great, a fan of these Flying Mountains (known as Russian Mountains throughout the rest of the world), ordered wheels to be attached to the sledges so that she could also ride during summer.
The French made the Flying Mountains steeper. They added grooves for the wheels, a separate track and were the first to install a loop. 20 years later, a disused coal railway in Pennsylvania became the first coaster which not only allowed people to slide down a mountain, but also allowed them to ride back up instead of walk. Since coaster history began, designers have competed to build the biggest, fastest, longest roller coasters. The most recent record-breaking roller coaster is The Smiler at Alton Towers which consists of an astonishing 14 loops.
The Ferris Wheel
“It was 6:32 o’clock. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, it [the ferris wheel] lifted the cars away from the earth, revolving from east to west. A fourth of the way up the wheel stopped. The passengers gasped in unison and looked at each other with smiles more or less sickly. They looked down and saw that they were hanging directly over the Austrian village. Suddenly they heard the regular throbbing of the engines again and felt much better.” — Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, 17 June 1893
George W. Ferris, an American architect, built the ferris wheel to rival the engineering marvel of the Eiffel Tower and commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus discovering America. The first ferris wheel premiered at the 1893 World Fair in Chicago, and the original design has changed very little since then.
The concept of the carousel originated in the Middle East in the 1100s when Arabic and Turkish horsemen would play games on horseback. This was described by Spanish crusaders as carosella. An unnamed Frenchman is credited with designing the original carousel contraption in order to train riders. Carved horses and chariots were suspended by chains from arms attached to a centre pole on his invention. The first carousels were moved by man or horse power. Today of course they run on electricity.
Cinemas: into the 3rd dimension and beyond
3D cinemas have been around since 1894 when William Friese Greene patented a 3D viewing process consisting of two screens side by side. In 1920, the first 3D film The Power of Love was screened in L.A. The most recent development in cinema technology is 5D. The 5th dimension element consists of seats which are programmed to move in time with a 3D film. This is accompanied with 4th dimension special effects such as water sprays, air jets and snow machines.
The Log Flume
The log flume began not as a ride, but as a practical way for loggers to transport tree trunks down stream. Brave forestry workers have hitched a ride downstream for hundreds of years. The first Average Joes got the chance to ride a log flume in 1963 at Six Flags in Texas.
The origin of the dodgems or bumper cars is difficult to pin down. Blackpool Pleasure Beach had a dodgem-like contraption as early as 1913 called the Witching Waves, although the dodgems as we know them were not introduced to the British Isles until 1918. The American Lusse Brothers are given credit as having invented the dodgems, and the Lusse Auto Scooter is said by some to be the hardest bumpers, quickest turners and fastest bumper cars ever made.
Take a look at your favourite theme park today, and whether they are themed with the Wild West or LEGO®, they’re likely to be split into different lands or zones. Walt Disney is credited with changing the layout of the theme park by Disneyland into different themed areas. The first Disneyland in California was heavily based on Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, a theme park that lies in a magical garden setting in the heart of Copenhagen city centre with rides, stalls, restaurants, a theatre, concert hall and a lake. Disney elaborated on this design with five original and iconic themed lands that represented America as well as the iconic Disney castle.
Into the Future
Who knows what the future holds for theme parks. It’s one of the industries where the old has survived alongside the new, ensuring that whether you’re an adrenaline-hungry thrill seeker or a proud tea-cup fan, there’s something for everyone. One thing’s for sure, fun has never gone out of fashion and where better to have an enjoyable day than at your favourite theme park.