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That Time Catherine the Great Invented the Roller Coaster
by Susana Polo | 11:47 am, January 4th, 2012
The Russian winter has been a historical force, a fact of climate that rules from Napoleon to Hitler have underestimated to their great detriment, and undoubtedly a killer of millions.
Oh, but it also might have inspired Catherine the Great to make the roller coaster? Well then all is forgiven.
Here’s how it went: back in the late 1700′s, it was a (mostly) local Saint Petersburg tradition to pile snow and ice up in two 70-80 foot high hills, reinforced with wooden supports. Excitement seekers would climb up one specially built tower, get on a sled, and speed down a 50 degree slope, reach a stop just in time to climb up the second tower, sled all the way back… you’re familiar with the physics involved, I’m sure.
This was all well and fine, until Catherine of Russia decided that she’d never put up with being called Catherine the Well and Fine and these ice slides (known as Russian Mountains) shouldn’t either. She wanted to be able to ride in the middle of the summer, and so she had a version of it built involving wheeled carts instead of sleds and grooved tracks instead of snow in the Gardens of Oranienbaum in Saint Petersburg in 1784.
The rest was history. Well, until the French invented the loop (tested with sandbags, monkeys, and finally one actual human being) sixty years later.