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Carnival Ride History: Part 3

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Throughout the year, many traveling carnivals appear in towns all over the world and a lot of them include amusement rides. Attending carnivals has been a favorite activity among people for decades and rides are appealing to anyone who doesn’t mind getting twirled or tossed around. Now that summer is quickly approaching it is inevitable that traveling fairs and carnivals start to spring up all across the country. Such events are staples of Spring and Summer in the United States, fully equipped with carnival games, prizes and—of course—rides.

Some carnivals, like the famous Coney Island, have been in existence for over 100 years and permanently remain in the same location even though they are not open all year round. Other amusement parks come in the form of theme parks, such as those founded by the Walt Disney Company, and are open all year. Yet no matter what kind of amusement park is closest to you, there are a number of classic rides that can be found at mostly any fair!

In May 2013 I wrote a brief article about the history of three popular carnival rides: the carousel, the Ferris wheel and the rollercoaster. This year I am upping the ante and penning additional articles about the histories behind some more of the most well-known and beloved rides and amusements.

The Zipper
The Zipper Meagan J. Meehan

The Zipper

The Zipper is an intense carnival ride that made its debut in 1968. The Zipper has a long frame that rotates in 360 degrees. There are twelve enclosures situated around the frame and each one of those enclosures can also spin at 360 degrees. Riders are loaded two-at-a-time into the enclosures and then the Zipper starts to spin at substantial speed. As the frame spins so do the individual cars, hence the experience is doubly dizzying for riders! For safety purposes, the rider’s enclosures provide little space as a means of restraint but many riders enjoy the turbulence of the ride and intentionally try to shift their weight to make the enclosure turn as many times a possible!

The Kamikaze
The Kamikaze Meagan J. Meehan

The Kamikaze

The Kamikaze, sometimes called the “Double-Arm Ranger,” is a pendulum amusement ride that securely fastens passengers in and then sends them spinning—upside down—in 360 degrees circles at speeds in excess of 60mph. Since its debut in 1984, the Kamikaze is regarded as being one of the most frightening rides that is frequently included in traveling amusement parks. The ride can swing both forwards and backwards to build up speed so riders are sent in clockwise, counterclockwise and completely upside down directions. Due to the intensity of the ride strict safety measures are enforced and most carnivals require riders to be at least 48 inches tall.

The Gravitron
The Gravitron Meagan J. Meehan

The Gravitron

The Gravitron is a ride that debuted in 1983 and is now a fixture at carnivals all over the world. The Gravitron is usually an enclosed ride (although there are outdoor models, too) that contains 48 padded panels lining the inside wall. Riders enter the ride and lean up against one of the panels which are angled slightly backwards. The ride then starts to rotate at high speeds and, as it circles, the force of gravity sticks the riders to the pads which also lift slightly off the floor due to their slanted angles. As the Gravitron spins riders feel like they are stuck to the walls and it can be difficult to even stick your arm out! Most times the ride is accompanied by bright strobe lights and loud music which only adds to the intense effect.

Tilt-a-Whirl
Tilt-a-Whirl Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Tilt-a-Whirl

The Tilt-A-Whirl is a ride that operates on a platform that has many bumps and curves embedded into the flooring. Several freely-spinning cars, that can hold up to four passengers, are attached to the platform. When the ride starts the cars rotate around the platform while parts of the floor are constantly raised and lowered at speed. This gives riders the feeling of being on a boat during a storm and it is also probably the reason why the tilt-a-whirl is associated with nausea! Tilt-a-Whirls were invented in 1926 by Herbery Sellner, a woodworker who also invented waterslides. Tilt-a-Whirls were instant successes and they remain popular until this day. Presently the rides can be designed to fit a number of themes. For example, there are Tilt-a-Whirl cars that resemble dinosaurs, strawberries and hot air balloons!

The "Sling Shot"
The "Sling Shot" Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The "Sling Shot"

The Reverse Bungee, also known as the “Sling Shot” or the “Sky Screamer,” was invented in 1978 by Troy Griffin who aimed to make a safer, yet extreme, bungee jumping experience. The ride is very simple in design; it consists of two towers that are mounted on a platform. These towers hold two elastic ropes that attach to a two person passenger car that is shaped like a ball and firmly attached to the center of the base platform. Passengers are securely strapped into the ball and then the platform attachment is released which launches the ball—and the riders—up to 492 feet into the air, spinning 360 degrees, at speeds of approximately 100mph! This ride is so intense that people with heart conditions are warned not to try it!

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