An amusement park (sometimes referred to as a funfair) or theme park is a group of entertainment attractions, rides, and other events in a location for the enjoyment of large numbers of people. Amusement parks have a fixed location, as opposed to travelling funfairs and traveling carnivals, and are more elaborate than simple city parks or playgrounds.
They usually provide attractions meant to cater specifically to certain age groups, as well as some that are aimed towards all ages. Theme parks, a specific type of amusement park, are usually much more intricately themed to a certain subject or group of subjects than normal amusement parks.
Amusement parks evolved from European fairs and pleasure gardens, which were created for people’s recreation. World’s fairs and expositions were another influence on the development of the amusement park industry.
In common language, the terms theme park and amusement park are often synonymous. However, a theme park can be regarded as a distinct style of amusement park. A theme park has landscaping, buildings, and attractions that are based on one or more specific themes or stories. Despite many older parks adding themed rides and areas, qualifying the park as a theme park, the first park built with the original intention of promoting a specific theme, Santa Claus Land, in Santa Claus, Indiana, did not open until 1946. Disneyland, located in Anaheim, California, built around the concept of encapsulating multiple theme parks into a
HISTORY & ORIGINS
The amusement park evolved from three earlier traditions, the oldest being the periodic fair of the Middle Ages – one of the earliest was the Bartholomew Fair in England, which began in 1133. By the 18th and 19th centuries, they had evolved into places of entertainment for the masses, where the public could view freak shows, acrobatics, conjuring and juggling, take part in competitions and walk through menageries.
The concept of a fixed park for amusement was further developed with the beginning of the world’s fairs. The first World fair began in 1851 with the construction of the landmark Crystal Palace in London, England. The purpose of the exposition was to celebrate the industrial achievement of the nations of the world and it was designed to educate and entertain the visitors.
American cities and business also saw the world’s fair as a way of demonstrating economic and industrial success. The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, Illinois was an early precursor to the modern amusement park. The fair was an enclosed site, that merged entertainment, engineering and education to entertain the masses. It set out to bedazzle the visitors, and successfully did so with a blaze of lights from the ‘White City’.
To make sure that the fair was a financial success, the planners included a dedicated amusement concessions area called the Midway Plaisance. Rides from this fair captured the imagination of the visitors and of amusement parks around the world, such as the first steel Ferris wheel, which was found in many other amusement areas, such as the Prater by 1896. Also, the experience of the enclosed ideal city with wonder, rides, culture and progress (electricity), was based on the creation of an illusory place.
The “midway” introduced at the Columbian Exposition would become a standard part of most amusement parks, fairs, carnivals and circuses. The midway contained not only the rides, but other concessions and entertainments such as shooting galleries, penny arcades, games of chance and shows.
The modern amusement park evolved from earlier seaside pleasure resorts that had become popular with the public for day-trips or weekend holidays in Blackpool, England and Coney Island, United States.
Blackpool began to develop as a seaside resort with the completion of a branch line to Blackpool from Poulton on the main Preston and Wyre Joint Railway line from Preston to In contrast, Blackpool boomed. A sudden influx of visitors, arriving by rail, provided the motivation for entrepreneurs to build accommodation and create new attractions, leading to more visitors and a rapid cycle of growth throughout the 1850s and 1860s.
The growth was intensified by the practice among the Lancashire cotton mill owners of closing the factories for a week every year to service and repair machinery. These became known as wakes weeks. Each town’s mills would close for a different week, allowing Blackpool to manage a steady and reliable stream of visitors over a prolonged period in the summer.
In 1863, the North Pier was completed, rapidly becoming a centre of attraction for elite visitors. Central Pier was completed in 1868, with a theatre and a large open-air dance floor. The town expanded southward beyond what is today known as the Golden Mile, towards South Shore, and South Pier was completed in 1893, making Blackpool the only town in the United Kingdom with three piers.
In 1879, large parts of the promenade were wired. The lighting and its accompanying pageants reinforced Blackpool’s status as the North of England’s most prominent holiday resort, and its specifically working class character. It was the forerunner of the present-day Blackpool Illuminations.
In 1894 two of the town’s most prominent buildings opened, the Grand Theatre on Church Street, and Blackpool Tower on the Promenade. The Grand Theatre was one of Britain’s first all-electric theatres. When the tower opened, 3,000 customers took the first rides to the top.
In the United States, picnic groves were established along rivers and lakes that provided bathing and water sports, such as Lake Compounce in Connecticut, first established as a picturesque picnic park in 1846, and Riverside Park in Massachusetts, founded in the 1870s along the Connecticut River.
A similar location was Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York, on the Atlantic Ocean, where a horse-drawn streetcar line brought pleasure seekers to the beach beginning in 1829. In 1875, a million passengers rode the Coney Island Railroad, and in 1876 two million visited Coney Island.
Some of these parks were developed in resort locations, such as bathing resorts at the seaside in New Jersey and New York. A premiere example in New Jersey was Atlantic City, a famous vacation resort. Entrepreneurs erected amusement parks on piers that extended from the boardwalk out over the ocean. The first of several was Ocean Pier in 1891, followed later by Steel Pier in 1898, both of which boasted rides and attractions typical of that time, such as
MODERN AMUSEMENT PARKS
The first permanent enclosed entertainment area, regulated by a single company, was founded in Coney Island in 1895: Sea Lion Park at Coney Island in Brooklyn. This park was one of
In 1897, Sea Lion Park was joined by Steeplechase Park, the first of three major amusement parks that would open in the Coney Island area. George Tilyou designed the park to provide thrills and entertainment. The combination of the nearby population center of New York City and the ease of access to the area made Coney Island the embodiment of the American
The first amusement park in England was opened in 1896 – the Blackpool Pleasure Beach by W. G. Bean. In 1904, Sir Hiram Maxim’s Captive Flying Machine was introduced; he had designed an early aircraft powered by steam engines that had been unsuccessful and instead o
Fire was a constant threat in those days, as much of the construction within the amusement parks of the era was wooden. In 1911, Dreamland was the first Coney Island amusement park to completely burn down; in 1944, Luna Park also burned to the ground. Most of Ingersoll’s Luna Parks were similarly destroyed, usually by arson, before his death in 1927.
THE GOLDEN AGE
During the Golden Age, many Americans began working fewer hours and had more disposable income. With new-found money and time to spend on leisure activities, Americans sought new venues for entertainment. Amusement parks, set up outside major cities and in rural areas, emerged to meet this new economic opportunity.
These parks served as source of fantasy and escape from real life. By the early 1900s, hundreds of amusement parks were operating in the United States and Canada. Trolley parks stood outside many cities. Parks like Atlanta’s Ponce de Leon and Idora Park, near Youngstown, OH, took
The Golden Age of amusement parks also included the advent of the kiddie park. Founded in 1925, the original Kiddie Park is located in San Antonio, Texas and is still in operation today.
This era saw the development of the new innovations in roller coasters that included extreme drops and speeds to thrill the riders. By the end of the First World War, people seemed to want an even more exciting entertainment, a need met by roller coasters. Although the development of the automobile provided people with more options for satisfying their
In England, the Dreamland Margate opened in 1920 with a Scenic Railway rollercoaster that opened to the public in 1920 with great success, carrying half a million passengers in its first year. The park also installed other rides common to the time including a smaller roller coaster, the Joy Wheel, Miniature Railway, The Whip and the River Caves. A ballroom was constructed on the site of the Skating Rink in 1920 and in 1923 a Variety Cinema was built
Meanwhile, the Blackpool Pleasure Beach was also being developed. Frequent large-scale investments were responsible for the construction of many new rides, including the Virginia Reel, Whip, Noah’s Ark, Big Dipper and Dodgems. In the 1920s the “Casino Building” was
In 1923, land was reclaimed from the sea front. It was at this period that the park moved to its 44-acre (180,000 m2) current location above what became Watson Road, which was built under the Pleasure Beach in 1932. During this time Joseph Emberton, an architect famous for
DEPRESSION & POST-WORLD WAR II DECLINE
The Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II during the 1940s saw the decline of the amusement park industry. War caused the affluent urban population to move to the suburbs,
By the 1950s, factors such as urban decay, crime, and even desegregation in the ghettos led to changing patterns in how people chose to spend their free time. Many of the older, traditional amusement parks closed or burned to the ground. Many would be taken out by the wrecking
AMUSEMENT & THEME PARKS TODAY
The amusement park industry’s offerings range from large, worldwide type theme parks such as Walt Disney World, SeaWorld Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood to smaller and medium-sized theme parks such as the Six Flags parks and Cedar Fair parks. Countless smaller ventures exist in many of the states of the U.S. and in countries around the world.
Family fun parks starting as miniature golf courses have begun to grow to include batting cages, go-karts, bumper cars, bumper boats and water slides. Some of these parks have grown to include even roller coasters, and traditional amusement parks now also have these
As of 2008, the Walt Disney Company accounted for around half of the total industry’s revenue in the US as a result of more than 50 million visitors of its U.S.-based attractions
EDUCATIONAL THEME PARKS
Some parks use rides and attractions for educational purposes. Disney was the first to successfully open a large-scale theme park built around education. Named Epcot, it opened in 1982 as the second park in the Walt Disney World Resort. There are also Holy Land USA and the Holy Land Experience, which are theme parks built to inspire Christian piety. Dinosaur World entertains families with dinosaurs in natural settings, while the SeaWorld