Towards the end of the 19th century, the idea of public places where people could experience a variety of entertaining things grew in popularity. It was during this period that five famous amusement parks opened.
There was also the sixth park in England, one that opened to Londoners more than two centuries earlier. Here are six early amusement parks and how the individual personality of each influenced other amusement parks around the world.
During the 1700s, Londoners and other visitors could retreat from their daily troubles and step into the tranquility of nature. As a spectacular natural setting, Vauxhall Gardens quickly became one of the most popular places for art and entertainment.
There were gardens of lush foliage, plus entertaining live attractions. In 1749, a rehearsal for a Mandel musical work drew an estimated crowd of over 10,000 spectators. Vauxhall Garden’s focus changed early during the 19th century to incorporate a different image.
Much of the fanfare began to reproduce something like a carnival atmosphere. The Gardens were used in a number of famous literary works, including Vanity Fair. Despite a permanent closure in 1859, Vauxhall’s inspiration is evident in future amusement parks.
Some believe that the popularity of Vauxhall Gardens pushed in a neighboring European culture about the middle of the 19th century. Tivoli Gardens opened in Denmark in 1843. It immediately had a central focus on lively types of entertainment.
Georg Carstensen has a showman’s intuition and his influence helped create the early atmosphere surrounding the park. Fancifully colored gas lamps illuminated a bandstand that was accented by flower gardens with a moat transformed into a small lake.
Tivoli was known for theatrical productions, but a shift toward more traditional amusement park themes started early in the 20th century. While it continued to present a carnival-like aura, there was a wooden roller coaster and other rides that would become trademark novelties at amusement parks.
Coney Island is one of the most famous amusement parks in the world. Within the boundaries of this traditional amusement, park setting was individual theme parks. Three of the interesting parks that influenced future ideas were part of Coney Island.
Steeplechase Park opened in 1897. It is credited with being one of the trademark attractions that propelled Coney Island’s notoriety. The primary attraction was a thousand-foot track made from steel. Visitors could race against one another on mechanical horses.
The park also had a massive Ferris Wheel called Trip to the Moon. A fire devastated much of Steeplechase Park barely 10 years after it opened. Steeplechase Park was rebuilt with an even bigger signature attraction.
This park set the guidelines for big rides and big aspirations for future amusement parks. Dreamland was another part of Coney Island’s fame. It only stayed open for a seven-year period but was very influential in how future parks would focus on the fantasy of a visitor’s experience.
While the attractions were fabulous, the dedication to the presentation was remarkable. More than a million light bulbs illuminated Dreamland. Developers used gusts of refrigerated air to authentic a train ride through the Swiss Alps.
It set a new benchmark for helping amusement park visitors grab a sense of reality from their visit. Not without irony, it was at a ride called Hell Gate that a fire started, a fire that would completely destroy Dreamland in 1911.
A third influential park with Coney Island was started a year before Dreamland. Luna Park was a theme-based park centering on a group of exotic buildings. As with Dreamland, Luna Park used the magnificence of intense lighting.
The final demise of the park has an eerie coincidence. Two of the more popular attractions at the park depicted staged recreations of real disasters. Park designers used the molten destruction of Pompeii and the floodwaters of Galveston, Texas to thrill visitors.
The fire proved to be the real disaster. In 1944, a fire devastated the park. While it was never rebuilt, other amusement parks around the world use Luna Park’s name today. Collectively, these three parks on Coney Island influenced the spectacular pageantry used in today’s amusement parks.
Our sixth park opened in 1893 and was coined as the Coney Island of the West. Saltair was designed as something akin to an oasis. The Mormon Church hoped to build a theme park devoid of the notoriously sleazy reputation western pioneers associated with New York.
The park was built on stilts on the shores of Great Salt Lake. Visitors could enjoy music or take a dip in the saline waters surrounding the park. There was a massive central pavilion where visitors could dance or enjoy various forms of family-friendly entertainment.
Saltair had the customary roller coasters and carousel rides. There were fabulous hot-air balloon displays and spectacular fireworks displays. The park was a marvelous success for more than a quarter-century before fire destroyed the main building in 1925. It was rebuilt, but could never match the allure of the original Saltair.
These are six early themed amusement parks, which not only influenced one another to some degree, but were part of a blueprint for parks of the future. Each influenced future designs and all left an indelible mark on future amusement parks around the world.