(Trivia Tid-Bits taken from Garden to Park: A Brief History of the Origins of Amusement and Theme Parks in America 
as presented by Greg-Chris Shaw, 2000)
* The carousel is based on a game called "carosella" that was played by Turkish and Arab soldiers in the 1100s.
* The game was a rather smelly one in which soldiers on horseback, to test their skills, would ride around in circles and charge each other and throw clay balls filled with perfume at each other. If you caught the ball, you threw it at someone else. If you got hit, you were out of the game...and covered in perfume so that everyone would know you lost.
* Spanish and Italian crusaders saw the game the Turks and Arabs played, and took it with them back to Europe.
* The French, as the French will, added a bit of pageantry to the sport, and also removed the "violent" nature of it, although the French do have a fondness for perfume. In the French version, men simply paraded on horseback for the kings pleasure around a circular area, dressed to impress...and their horses were too. This was in the 1400s, and it became known as "le carrousel."
* Le Carrousel evolved in France for a couple of hundred years, and in one version of the game, riders attempted to spear tiny brass rings located on the outside of the circular carousel area. This is where the tradition of grabbing the brass ring came from.
* The connection is now obvious, and by the 1680s, the horses became artificial and attached to a wheel for young children of noble birth to enjoy. Of course, man-power (provided by burly dolts with much muscle and probably not much brain) was used to turn the gears, but the general effect was the same as today's modern carousels.
* Since it is a game of soldiers and aristocracy, the artificial horses were decorated in the finest styles like true military horses. Carvers of carousel horses became well-paid craftsmen of the French court, and the pageantry spread across Europe. Having a beautiful, hand-carved carousel horse, decorated in splendid military finery was not quite the same as having a real horse (which these aristocrats most certainly did), but like any other leisure-related snobbery, it did show how much money you could afford to waste...which is the pure essence of appearing to be wealthy.
* By the 1800s, carousels had arrived in America. The well-known tradition of grabbing the brass ring that had started in Europe took on full effect in America, and today some of the older carousels in the northeaster US still have brass rings. Germans in particular had become especially skilled in the carving of carousel horses, and as more German immigrants came to the United States, the quality of American carousels greatly improved. By the early 1900s, carousels were mechanized, and man power was no longer needed.
* The most popular names in carousels are Dentzel and the Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC).
* The "Philadelphia Style" of carousel design involves very realistic looking horses decorated for war of either the medieval or Roman time periods (you'll often see chariots on the Roman-influenced ones).
* The "Coney Island Style" of carousel design uses more whimsical animals. Giant fish, sea serpents, mermaids...whatever hits the designer's fancy.
* Because of the high cost of hand-carved carousel horses, most modern carousels unfortunately contain plastic horses.
* Carousels have a very closely related cousin called the Merry-Go-Round (called the Round-A-Bout in England). Carousels turn clockwise while Merry-Go-Rounds turn counter-clockwise.
* The Riverview Carousel, now located at Six Flags Over Georgia, is often considered the world's finest example of a classic Philadelphia Toboggan Company carousel. The carousel was saved from the destruction of Riverview Park in Chicago, and is now listed as a National Historic Landmark. Being that it is owned now by Six Flags has meant that the maintenance is somewhat lacking. The wood horses require much more re-painting than Six Flags gives them, but even so, it is an amazing work of craftsmanship and art.
* Other well-regarded United States carousels include the Grand Carousel (another PTC carousel) at Knoebles Amusement Park in Pennsylvania, where you can still grab brass rings and toss them into a clown's mouth for a prize while riding and the impressive Columbia Carousel at the Six Flags Great America near Chicago and Paramount's Great America near San Jose (both of the Great America parks were originally built and owned by Marriott, hence their similarity, although they have now been sold to different companies). Although not as old as some carousels, the Columbia is a double-decker carousel, which is extremely rare. 
* Ferris wheels were first called "pleasure wheels," and have existed since at least the early 1600s in Europe. As with the carousel, early pleasure wheels were man-powered and usually held only four or so people.
* An American engineer name George W Ferris was called upon to design the United State's answer to the Eiffel Tower for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. The Eiffel Tower had been designed by engineer Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 World's fair in Paris, and was the world's largest man-made structure, standing almost 1000ft high.
* George W came up with the Ferris Wheel, which was based on the old pleasure wheels of Europe. It opened with the expo in 1893 (mind you the expo opened a year late...it was intended to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus landing in the Americas, which would have been 1892...but it was so lavish and construction fell behind schedule, so it was delayed one year). The Ferris Wheel became "the darling of the midway."
* While it might not sound like a true answer to the Eiffel Tower (La Tour Eiffel), take a note of this Ferris Wheel's impressive characteristics...
   It was the first wheel to have a motor to power it.
   The wheel had a diameter of 250ft.
   The axel was the largest piece of steel forged at the time...45ft long. 
   The wheel contained 36 cabins that held 60 people each...yes, that's 60, not 6!!
   The cabins contained chairs for each person. The chairs could rotate 180 degrees. 
   Each cabin had its own attendant that would give information details on the superb views.
   Each cabin contained a brand new invention...the telephone, and guests were invited to call friends and brag about the wheel.
* If you're still wondering which was the more successful design, the Ferris Wheel or the Eiffel Tower, consider which one has been copied more often and you'll have your answer.
* The roller coaster began its life as a giant slide in Russia. Ice slides were popular beginning in the 1600s. A well-known Russian Empress, Catherine II (also called Catherine the Great) loved the slides so much that she had wheels put on the bottom of hers so that she could also ride in the summer when there was no ice. Like Russia has such long and hot summers you'd need this sort of thing.
* The French (they always seem to have a hand in things) saw the ice slides when visiting St Petersburg, and took the idea back to France and called them "Russian Mountains." This was in the 1800s. While the slides weren't terribly safe, and people kept falling off the sides (some were over 80ft high), the slides were very popular.
* On a completely different note, in Pennsylvania in 1983 the Mauch Chuck Railway that had been used to run mine cars down the mountainside, began transporting passengers for a small charge. The run was 18 miles! It was also unbraked and actually quite dangerous. But, riders thrilled at the 60mph speeds, and the railway ran for a few years until it was determined that too many people were falling out around the unbanked turns. 
* LaMarcus Thompson opened a new contraption called the "switchback railway" in 1884 at Coney Island in NY. The switchback railway had seats that looked like long park benches, and passengers sat facing sideways and traveled at speeds of up to 12mps over a series of gradually undulating hills. At the end of the run, riders exited, climbed a set of stairs while a few burly guys would push the "park bench" up to the top of the hill for the return trip. The riders would get back in and return to the original station. 
* From here it was all, as they say, downhill. Between 1884 and 1905, several improvements were made on Thompson's first switchback. They include...
   Making the roller coaster a complete circuit (starts and stops at the same station with no break in-between).
   Adding the chain lift hill so that no man-power was needed.
   Station brakes (yes, there were no brakes at first) were added in the early 1900s to stop the trains.
* A big safety feature was added to the bottom of the trains to keep them from rolling backwards called a "chain dog." The chain dog is a tiny, backward facing, piece of shaped metal that catches in the notches of the chain. Should the chain stop moving, the chain dogs will catch fast, and keep the train from sliding backwards. While you are moving up the lift hill of a coaster, you will notice the "click, click, click" sound. That's the sound of the chain dogs clicking in the chain to keep you safe.
* By 1910, coaster had added "side-friction" wheels, which helped keep the train on the track going around turns with high lateral g forces. Again, like brakes, a useful addition.
* Shortly afterward, "under-friction" or "up-stop" wheels were added to keep the train from flying off the track during periods of negative g force. 
* Modern roller coaters, wood and steel, both contain three sets of wheels..."running wheels" which carry the weight of the train, side-friction wheels and up-stop wheels.
* Most roller coaster brakes stop the train by the friction of metal plates in the station rubbing against metal plates or "fins" on the side or bottom of the train. Older coaster operate these manually (only one or two still exist this way) while most have automatic brakes that are released hydraulically...that's the big air sound you hear as the train enters the station. Exceptions are the newer LIM (Linear Induction Motor) and LSM (Linear Synchronous Motor) coasters, which launch riders using electricity or magnets. In these cases, the coasters have magnetic braking systems.
* One of the oddest coasters ever built was called Leap-the-Gap. This coaster was built in 1900, and actually had a piece of track missing where the cars (it had single cars, no connected trains) would "leap the gap" and land on the track on the other side. Two engineers figured the proper formulas and made the correct calculations so that the thing actually worked when empty. Of course, once people were added, the weight changed entirely, and the ride was a huge failure.
* The first looping coasters built were built in 1898 and 1900. They were the Loop-the-Loop and the Flip-Flap. Both of these rides were made of wood, and both had loops that were completely round, rather than the elliptical (tear drop) shaped loops you see on modern looping rides. These round loops created extreme changes in g-force when entering the loop, and often resulted in riders experiencing broken collar bones. In addition, this was before up-stop wheels were added, and the cars had nothing to keep them on the track should they suddenly stop in the middle of the loop. Needless to say, many people suffered on these rides, and Coney Island merchants actually charged people more money to stand and watch rather than to ride. They were happy for anyone brave (crazy/drunk/insane) enough to get on.
* The world's first successful looping coaster was made of steel, and was the Corkscrew, which opened in 1975 at Knott's Berry Farm (it had two corkscrew loops and not a vertical loop). In 1976, the Great American Revolution (re-named the Revolution) open at Six Flags Magic Mountain, and was the first modern coaster with a vertical loop.


* Highest (Full Circuit) Coaster in US: KINGDA KA, Six Flags Great Adventure (New Jersey), 456ft high/118mph
(This is the second coaster in the world to be over 400ft high)
* Highest (Full Circuit, chain lift hill) Coaster: STEEL DRAGON, Nagashima Spa Land (Japan), 318ft high/93mph
* Highest (Full Circuit, chain lift hill) Coaster in US: MILLENNIUM FORCE, Cedar Point (Ohio), 310ft high/92mph
(Millennium Force was the first coaster to have "stadium seating" for its trains, with seats in the back of each car elevated higher than those in the front to offer better views)
* Highest Thrill Ride: SUPERMAN: THE ESCAPE, Six Flags Magic Mountain (California), 400ft high/100mph
(Superman is not considered a coaster consistently throughout the industry, and it is now most frequently referred to as a "reverse freefall" and is considered a hybrid coaster/free fall thrill ride)
* Fastest Launched Coaster: DODONPA, Fijikyu Highlands (Japan), zero to 107mph in 1.84 seconds...that's fast!)
* Fastest Launched Coaster in US: HYPERSONIC XLC, Paramount's Kings Dominion (Virginia), zero to 80mph in 1.8 seconds...still pretty damn fast!)
* Highest Wooden Coaster: SON OF BEAST, Paramount's Kings Island (Ohio), 215ft high
(Son of Beast is also the only wooden roller coaster with a vertical loop. It is also the first ever coaster sequel, as this ride was based on and is considered a continuation of The Beast, which opened twenty years earlier, and was the highest roller coaster in the world at the time. The same design team re-united and as often happens with the movies, looked at their classic coaster and tried to update it for the modern age while still reminding fans of the original. The result was the huge success that is Son of Beast. The loop was eventually removed and the ride was reprofiled after several rider complaints.)
* Park with the most coasters: CEDAR POINT (Ohio), 17 coasters
(Six Flags Magic Mountain will open rides this year to have 18 coasters, passing Cedar Point - if Superman is considered a coaster.)
* Most visited theme park: MAGIC KINGDOM (approx. 17 million visitors annually)
* Most visited resort: WALT DISNEY WORLD (approx. 40 million visitors annually, which makes it one of the top ten visited "nations" in the world...attendance based on the four theme parks--the Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center, Disney/MGM Studios and Animal Kingdom combined)