The earliest amusement parks, most often located at the end of a trolley line, were built as attractions to stimulate weekend ridership on trolley cars. These parks consisted of picnic grounds, dance halls, restaurants, and a few games and simple rides.
The World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893, had a huge impact on the industry. The Expo featured the Ferris wheel, a huge mechanical ride, that was the hit of the fair. The Ferris wheel is still a staple in many parks today. One of the biggest innovations of the Expo was the introduction of the midway concept. By arranging gaming booths, concession stands, and rides on either side of a walkway, people had to pass every attraction to get from one end of the park to the other.
After enjoying success with his Water Chutes park in Chicago, Paul Boynton was inspired to establish another facility at the existing Coney Island resort in New York City in 1895. Many people came to visit the two-mile boardwalk and beach for the attractions, carnival games, and shows. For the next 30 years, Coney Island was a popular amusement park and served as a model for the many other parks opening throughout the United States. By 1919, there were more than 1,500 amusement parks in operation. Coney Island remains a popular New York tourist attraction today.
In the 1930s and early 1940s, the Great Depression, and the onset of World War II, almost destroyed the industry. The poor economy and forced rationing of supplies closed many parks. Indeed, by 1939, only 400 amusement parks were still open. The industry received a boost with the postwar baby boom. Many parks, using a new concept, the Kiddieland, pulled in a new generation of parkgoers with family-oriented attractions and rides.
By far, the most successful pioneer of the amusement park industry was Walt Disney. He opened Disneyland in 1955, using themes as the basis of the park layout and concept, instead of traditional rides and concessions. Disneyland offered the public, or "guests," five different theme lands and times, such as Tom Sawyer's Island, Futureland, and Cinderella's Castle, for a fixed price. Disneyland was, and still is, hugely successful, and it has become the springboard for future Disney parks—Disney World, Epcot Center, and Tokyo Disneyland.
Many companies have tried to duplicate Disney's achievements. One of the most successful has been the Six Flags company. Six Flags now has 26 theme parks in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, specializing in thrill rides, variety shows, and music concerts. Another popular park is Cedar Point, in Sandusky, Ohio.
A day at an amusement park remains a popular family activity. However, in order to stay fresh and attract repeat customers, parks are constantly adding new rides and more elaborate shows and parades, in essence reinventing themselves to suit the public's ever-changing tastes and attitudes.
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