Amusement Parks

views updated May 21 2018

Amusement Parks

Spatial and temporal enclaves remote from everyday life, amusement parks are among the favorite recreational places of Americans, who imported the concept from Europe, developed it into a major artifact of American popular culture and have successfully re-exported it throughout the world since the 1980s. Amusement parks not only provide an abundance of entertainment to visitors by featuring roller coasters, Ferris wheels, carousels, games, food, and shows, but also have promoted very contested models of ideal future societies and utopian communities, especially since the creation of Disneyland in 1955.

Contemporary amusement parks are the descendants of medieval trade fairs and European pleasure gardens of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Originally expressing an idyllic Arcadian life within increasingly industrialized urban landscapes, later pleasure gardens displayed additional features such as live entertainment, exotic architecture, impressive lighting, fireworks, dancing, games, and even primitive amusement rides. However, as their popularity grew, they also attracted undesirable guests such as prostitutes, rakes, smugglers, and thieves, and the development of criminal activities caused many of these gardens to close.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the growth of the amusement park industry shifted to the United States, benefiting greatly from the Chicago's Columbian Exposition of 1893, which introduced the key elements of modern amusement parks. The World's Fair unveiled the first Ferris wheel and the exotic enticements of the Midway Plaisance but, more significantly, it pioneered the model of an enclosed, illusory, and temporary utopian world produced by architects, engineers, and planners. Disconnected from its urban and social environment, the White City allowed its visitors to temporarily escape from reality and experience the magic dream of a perfect future relying on technological progress. Following this example, Captain Paul Boynton opened Chutes Park in Chicago in 1894, the first enclosed amusement park charging an admission fee; a solution that allowed for the exclusion of criminal elements. One year later, he opened Sea Lion Park at Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York, which inspired numerous amusement parks in the United States, including the three Great Coney Island parks.

Coney Island embodied the American amusement park tradition from the 1890s until the mid-1950s. In 1875, the completion of the Andrew Culver's Prospect Park and Coney Island Trailway had transformed Coney Island from a traditional seaside resort into a popular playground. Steeplechase Park (1897-1964), Luna Park (1903-1947), and Dreamland (1904-1911) attracted millions of working-class New Yorkers who enjoyed the intense thrills provided by the roller coaster and other mechanical devices, and the fabulous atmosphere of fantasy, sensuality, and chaos created by the extravagant architecture, incredible illuminations, and disorienting attractions. Coney Island offered an escape from a mundane existence and a sense of release from the responsibilities of adulthood.

Increasing leisure time and disposable personal income, as well as the development of electric trolley lines in major American cities, initiated a tremendous growth of the amusement park industry over the next three decades. By building amusement parks at the end of trolley lines, trolley magnates stimulated weekend ridership, thus generating additional revenues and maximizing the flat monthly rate charged by the electric light and power companies. The first "trolley parks" consisted of picnic groves located in a pastoral landscape, but quickly, dance halls, restaurants, games, and a few amusement rides were added for the pleasure and entertainment of the patrons. These amusement parks became immediately successful among all social classes and, by 1920, over 1,800 operated in the United States. Unfortunately, the golden age did not last. In 1998, only twelve trolley parks remained.

The beginning of the 1920s marked the beginning of the dramatic decline of traditional amusement parks. With the new mobility provided by automobiles and the lack of parking facilities at the urban parks, visitors turned to new activities and attractions such as motion pictures or more independent leisure travel. In addition, Prohibition (of alcohol), some years of bad summer weather, the acquisition of parks by private individuals, the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression caused the closing of numerous parks. By 1939, only 245 amusement parks still remained, struggling to survive. World War II further hurt the industry, but the postwar baby boom and the creation of "kiddielands" allowed for a short resurgence of prosperity. Nevertheless, the radical cultural changes occurring in the 1950s made amusement parks obsolete. The industry could not face the competition from shopping centers and television entertainment, suburbanization of the middle class, intensifying racial tensions, gang conflicts, and urban decay. Most of the traditional amusement parks closed. The modern amusement park would soon appear. The new concept was a fantastic dream of Walt Disney, which cost $17 million to build.

On July 17, 1955, "Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom," more commonly referred to as Disneyland, opened in Anaheim, California. The nation's first modern theme park was born and would dramatically alter the future of the amusement park industry, despite the skepticism it faced at its beginning. Featuring five separate fantasy worlds—Main Street, U.S.A., Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland, and Tomorrowland—Disneyland attracted nearly four million visitors in 1956 and has maintained its exceptional popularity ever since. Isolated and protected from the intrusion of the real world, Disneyland offers to its visitors the experience of a spotless and idyllic universe without sex, violence, or social problems. The attractions transport them into a romanticized past and future, providing maximum thrill and illusion of danger in a perfectly safe environment. Impeccably planned and engineered down to the smallest detail, the park is a realm of permanent optimism and artificiality, celebrating the American Dream of progress through high technology within a carefully designed and bucolic landscape.

After many failures to copy Disneyland's successful formula, Six Flags over Texas opened in 1961 and became the first prosperous regional theme park, followed in 1967 by Six Flags over Georgia. Throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, while traditional urban amusement parks continued to close, suffering from decaying urban conditions, large corporations such as Anheuser-Busch, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Marriott Corporation, MCA, Inc., and Taft Broadcasting invested in theme parks well connected to the interstate highway system. In 1971, the opening of what would become the world's biggest tourist attraction, Walt Disney World, opened on 27,500 acres in central Florida. Costing $250 million, it was the most expensive amusement park of that time. Less than ten years later, in 1982, EPCOT Center opened at Walt Disney World and the permanent world's fair surpassed $1 billion. After the fast development of theme parks in the 1970s, the United States faced domestic market saturation and the industry began its international expansion. With the opening of Wonderland in Canada (1981) and Tokyo Disneyland in Japan (1983), theme parks started to successfully conquer the world. Meanwhile, a renewed interest for the older parks permitted some of the traditional amusement parks to survive and expand. In 1987, Kennywood, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Playland, in Rye, New York, became the first operating amusement parks to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1992 Euro Disneyland, which cost $4 billion to build, opened near Paris. Jean Cau, cited by Alan Riding, described it as "a horror made of cardboard, plastic, and appalling colors, a construction of hardened chewing gum and idiotic folklore taken straight out of comic books written for obese Americans." Though dismissed by French intellectuals and suffering financial losses for the first three years, by 1995 the park showed profits and has become among the most visited attractions in Europe.

In 1993 the Disney Company announced plans for an American history theme park near a Civil War battlefield site in Virginia. Although welcomed by some for the jobs and tax revenues it would create, the plans engendered much criticism. Disney was called a "cultural strip miner" and the project labeled a "Trojan mouse." Leading historians took out large advertisements in national newspapers asking, "Should Disney pave over our real past to promote a commercial fantasy?" Ultimately, the plan was abandoned.

The intellectual community has endlessly criticized theme parks and particularly the Disney versions. In 1958, novelist Julian Halévy noted about Disneyland: "As in Disney movies, the whole world, the universe, and all man's striving for dominion over self and nature, have been reduced to a sickening blend of cheap formulas packaged to sell. Romance, Adventure, Fantasy, Science are ballyhooed and marketed: life is bright colored, clean, cute, titillating, safe, mediocre, inoffensive to the lowest common denominator, and somehow poignantly inhuman." Most criticisms emphasize the inauthentic, controlled and sanitized experience provided by the Disney parks. Totally disconnected from reality, the parks offer a decontextualized, selective, and distorted history, denying any components that could potentially challenge the perfect carefree world they exemplify. Ignoring environmental, political, and social issues, these ersatz of paradise are said to promote an unquestioned belief in consumerism, control through managerial hierarchy, and technologies to solve all the world's problems, and to supply permanent entertainment to millions of passive visitors pampered by a perpetually smiling and well-mannered staff.

A more critical aspect of theme parks is their heavy reliance on the automobile and airplane as means of access. While mass-transit connection to the urban centers allowed millions of laborers to enjoy the trolley parks, its absence creates a spatially and socially segregated promised land excluding the poor and the lower classes of the population. The customers tend to belong mainly to the middle-and upper-middle classes. Since many visitors are well-educated, it seems difficult to support fully the previous criticisms. Theme park visitors are certainly not completely fooled by the content of the fictitious utopias that they experience, but, for a few hours or days, they can safely forget their age, social status, and duties without feeling silly or guilty. The success of American amusement parks lies in their ability to allow their visitors to temporarily lapse into a second childhood and escape from the stress and responsibilities of the world.

—Catherine C. Galley

—Briavel Holcomb

Further Reading:

Adams, Judith A. The Amusement Park Industry: A History of Technology and Thrills. Boston, Twayne, 1991.

Bright, Randy. Disneyland: Inside Story. New York, H.N.Abrams, 1987.

Cartmell, Robert. The Incredible Scream Machine: A History of the Roller Coaster. Bowling Green, Bowling Green State University Press, 1987.

Halévy, Julian. "Disneyland and Las Vegas." Nation. June 7,1958, 510-13.

Mangels, William F. The Outdoor Amusement Industry from Earliest Times to Present. New York, Vantage Press, 1952.

Marling, Karal A. Designing Disney's Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance. Paris, Flammarion, 1997.

Riding, Alan. "Only the French Elite Scorn Mickey's Debut." New York Times. April 15, 1992, A1.

Snow, Richard. Coney Island: A Postcard Journey to the City of Fire. New York, Brightwaters Press, 1984.

Sorkin, Michael, editor. Variations on a Theme Park: The New American City and the End of Public Space. New York, Hill and Wang, 1992.

Throgmorton, Todd H. Roller Coasters: An Illustrated Guide to the Rides in the United States and Canada, with a History. Jefferson, McFarland & Co., 1993.

Theme Parks

views updated May 23 2018

Theme Parks

Children use their imagination extensively when at play. Through the creation of role-play fantasies, children are able to escape their dependent and limited role as children and venture into a world of fantasy to become free-willed, independent persons owning a sense of societal status and importance. Drawing from examples they observe in books, television, and film, children can escape into fantasy roles to become pioneers, heroes, doctors, nurses, royalty, or any inspiring figure of the past, present, or future. As children advance toward adulthood, however, fantasy role-playing is replaced with more passive forms of escapism, such as reading books or watching movies and television.

Theme Parks and Amusement Parks

Theme parks are three-dimensional fantasy settings in which both child and adult are actively immersed into fantasy environments inspired by literature, films, and television. They have their roots in the amusement park, which has long been a center of active play where children and adults alike can divert themselves from their typical daily regimes and involve themselves in direct play, thrill, and challenge. Yet even in amusement parks, where adults and children alike can participate in active play, parents are more likely to participate passively as bystanders, observing their children at play.

The theme park differs from the amusement park in that its form and function embrace the childhood activities of role-playing that appeal to children as well as to the inner child of adults. Thus the concept of the theme park is born, in part, from the universal desire of children and the child within adults to escape into their imaginations and pretend to be a part of a nostalgic, exotic, or fantasy setting.

The term theme park originated with Disneyland, which opened in Anaheim, California, in 1955. As the first and most widely recognized theme park, Disneyland has long reigned as the model of all modern theme parks. Its unique themed settings and attractions created a shift in the design of parks that followed, many of which placed as much emphasis on their themed environments as on park attractions.

The opening of Disneyland coincided with the transition of North America's demographics toward a predominately middle-class society and with a surge in the population known as the baby boom. With the increasing number of young families came a growing need for family-oriented leisure activities.

As a producer of films and television programs that families could enjoy together, Disneyland's founder, Walt Disney, was in close touch with what interested the American middle-class family. He was well aware that children and adults alike enjoyed escaping into his films and television programs. He was also conscious of the need for activities that would appeal equally to young and old, and thus began to conceive a new kind of amusement park that would appeal to patrons of all ages; that would engage the typically inactive parents and promote family participation.

Designing Disneyland

Drawing on his background in film and television production, Disney looked for ways to translate the entertainment that was experienced on a movie or television screen into a physical setting that could be experienced completely by patrons. To do this, he turned to the art directors and animators of his film studio for assistance in designing his park.

The Disney artists came up with the concept of organizing attractions within a series of memorable theatrical settings. All elements of these themed environments would work in harmony, including the architecture, landscaping, attractions, costumes, and even sounds. The intent was that patrons could literally step into the scenes and become a part of the show.

When it opened, Disneyland included five distinct themed settings: Main Street, USA; Adventureland; Frontierland; Fantasyland; and Tomorrowland. Children visiting the park for the first time were already familiar with these settings because they were commonly portrayed on television and in film. For adults, the settings functioned as vivid reminders of their own childhoods. Thus visitors to Disneyland found the park environments instantly familiar and comforting.

Disneyland's designers employed techniques similar to those used in the studio, including the film design ideal of the procession through scenes such as scenic transitions and design tricks with scale and perspective that were commonly used to create convincing environments within the tight confines of a studio sound stage. These immersed the visitor in the theme park experience.

To employ the ideals of scene changes in themed settings, for example, key landmarks were sited at the ends of long vistas to lure guests forward and through park environments. Furthermore, themed settings were organized to carefully transition and unfold as park guests traveled from one themed environment and into another.

For children visiting Disneyland, the smaller-than-life scale promoted a sense of importance, making them feel larger in relation to their surroundings and thus able to experience the scale of space as an adult would. Because of its scale, adults visiting the park experienced an instant sense of nostalgia, as if they were returning to a childhood setting and discovering environments that were smaller and more intimate than they remembered.

Disneyland's Successors

Disney's new theme park was immediately popular among the American public, and it quickly became well known around the world. In fact, Disneyland soon became a stop that many foreign dignitaries requested when visiting the United States.

Disneyland's popularity led to a surge in the opening of theme parks, which drew from Disney's theme ideals in their own designs. The first to prove a strong success since Disneyland's opening was Six Flags over Texas, which opened in 1961 and incorporated themed settings based on the history of Texas. Following this successful example, other theme parks began to open throughout the United States. The formula for the design of these parks typically consisted of six or seven themed areas, each having attractions, shows, and rides that blended with their surroundings.

The success of the Six Flags park also prompted Six Flags to open a park near Atlanta, Georgia, and another one near Saint Louis, Missouri. Following the lead of the three Six Flags parks, chains of theme parks began to appear across the United States. These were largely developed, owned, and operated by global hospitality and beverage companies such as the international hotelier Marriott and the international beverage company Anheuser-Busch.

In the decades following the opening of the Marriott and Anheuser-Busch parks, several of the world's largest entertainment companies began also to design, build, and operate their own theme parks. Today global film companies such as Universal Studios, Fox, Paramount, Warner Brothers, and of course Disney own and operate the majority of chain theme parks in the United States, Europe, and Asia.

The parks produced by these film studios have much in common with the original Disneyland park in that they also employ well-recognized themed designs, often based on popular films. Their patrons, like Disneyland's, are already familiar with the television programs and films upon which the settings and attractions are based and thus feel an immediate sense of familiarity.

Walt Disney World Resort

Today the most notable collection of theme parks within one geographic locale can be found at the Walt Disney World resort in central Florida. As the original Disneyland park revolutionized the future of amusement parks, the Walt Disney World Resort has revolutionized leisure-time destinations.

When the success and profitability of Disneyland far surpassed even his expectations, Walt Disney began to conceive an attraction that would be more than just another theme park. He wanted to create an extensive leisure resort complex that would ultimately contain several other theme parks and a prototype residential community, all within the confines of 27,433 acres of land. Disney referred to this plan as EPCOT, which stood for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.

Today the Walt Disney World resort is a forty-three-square-mile leisure complex that is home to four theme parks as well as numerous resort hotels; leisure, retail, and entertainment complexes; and a planned residential community. The first park developed for Walt Disney World was the Magic Kingdom, which is similar to Disneyland. This was followed by Epcot, which took its name from Disney's original plan, then by the Disney-MGM Studios theme park, and finally by Disney's Animal Kingdom park. In all, the Walt Disney World resort is one of the world's most popular and most highly attended leisure destinations.

Today, themed environments are commonplace, and themeing is found not only in the realm of amusement and theme parks, but also in retail stores, restaurants, hotels, cruises, high-profile architecture, and in many other types of built environments. Since their conception in the mid-1950s, theme parks have become an international brand of entertainment that continuously leads the amusement park industry in attendance and provides opportunities for play and escapism for children and adults around the world.

See also: Parades; Vacations; Zoos.


Finch, C. 1973. The Art of Walt Disney: From Mickey Mouse to the Magic Kingdoms. New York: Abrams.

King, Margaret J. 1981. "Disneyland and Walt Disney World: Traditional Values in Futuristic Form." Journal of Popular Culture 15, no. 1 (summer): 116140.

Kyriazi, G. 1976. The Great American Amusement Parks: A Pictorial History. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel.

Roddewig, R. J., et al. January 1986. "Appraising Theme Parks." Appraisal Journal 51, no. 1: 85108.

Thomas, Bob. 1980. Walt Disney: An American Original. New York: Pocket Books.

Stephen J. Rebori

Amusement Parks

views updated Jun 08 2018


AMUSEMENT PARKS. Rooted in the European traditions of trade fairs (Bartholomew Fair, 1133–1855) and pleasure gardens (Vauxhall, 1661–1859), the modern American amusement park developed in the late nineteenth century. Young men and women were flocking to cities from rural America and eastern and southern Europe. Liberated from the discipline of community and family, they took control over their leisure. Moreover, workers enjoyed more free time and more discretionary income as labor unions won concessions on hours and wages. At the same time, engineers and entrepreneurs were learning to build better carousels, Ferris wheels, and roller coasters. The recreational needs of a new society intersected with the maturation of amusement technology, and parks took off.

Although not a park, the World's Columbian Exposition (Chicago, 1893)—which celebrated Columbus's journey to America specifically and Western progress in general—perfected the amusement formula that, more or less, still applies. First, it projected a coherent and controlled fantasy. The Court of Honor, a group of imposing neoclassical structures surrounding a giant basin and a hundred-foot gilt statue, transported visitors to a glistening, if illusory, ancient Greece, walled off from the hustle and bustle of the real city outside. Second, it marketed the exotic. The exposition's midway featured anthropologically inspired reproductions of foreign villages, freak shows, belly dancers, South Pacific islanders, and African

Dahomey men in short grass skirts. Third, it was thrilling. The towering Ferris wheel was the most popular attraction on the midway.

Coney Island, a beach resort in Brooklyn, New York, was home to the most famous amusement parks of the early twentieth century. Sea Lion Park (1895) was the first enclosed amusement park in the United States, but Steeplechase Park (1897) was the first truly popular one. Steeplechase Park catered to single men and women, offering such daring attractions as the "Barrel of Love," a revolving wheel that tended to make men and women collide; "blowholes" that lifted women's skirts; and "the Steeplechase," a horse-racing ride that accommodated two riders per animal. Luna Park (1903) relied on extravagance, not sexuality. The park created a permanent carnival atmosphere with pinwheels, hundreds of thousands of lights, and elaborate spires and turrets. Inspired by the Columbian Exposition, Luna Park had an Eskimo village and a Japanese garden. Its "Trip to the Moon" was a fantasy outer space populated with beautiful women, giants, and midgets, and its disaster shows recreated the Johnstown flood and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Although Coney Island had some of the most creative amusement parks, by the turn of the century there were versions of Steeplechase or Luna Park in almost every city. Trolley companies built most of them to en-courage more riders at night and on weekends, when business tended to be slow. A beach, a picnic area, and a few rides at the end of the trolley line attracted tens of thousands of passengers on a Sunday. Cleveland's Euclid Beach, Pittsburgh's Kennywood Park, and San Francisco's Chutes all started as trolley parks. By 1920, there were about two thousand amusement parks in the United States.

The "scream machine," a faster, scarier roller coaster, arrived in 1924, with the famous Bobs at Chicago's Riverview Park. Coney Island's Cyclone was built in 1927. But amusement parks were already beginning to decline. Cars gave people the option of spending leisure time wherever they wanted, not only where the trolley would take them. The Great Depression hurt parks badly, and when families started moving to the suburbs after World War II, city parks lost their clientele. By 1948, fewer than four hundred parks remained open, and almost none of the old urban parks would survive into the 1970s. Notable exceptions are Kennywood and Sandusky's Cedar Point.

Although suburbanization partly accounted for the failure of city parks, it also gave rise to a new kind of amusement park: the theme park. Walt Disney provided the model with Disneyland, which opened in Anaheim, outside of Los Angeles, in 1955. Built with corporate sponsorship money from firms including Pepsi, Monsanto, and ABC, Disneyland took the control and fantasy formula to new heights. The park was spotless. It was surrounded by a high wall with only one entrance. Its huge, friendly staff received training at "Disneyland University." Such measures, it was thought, enhanced the experience of Disneyland's five thematic areas: Adventureland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, Main Street U.S.A., and Tomorrowland. The suburban theme park was an instant success. During its first ten years, 50 million people visited Disneyland.

Walt Disney World opened in Orlando, Florida, in 1971 with the Disneyland-inspired Magic Kingdom, two resorts, and a resort community. Since then, the Disney empire has grown, with Tokyo Disneyland (1983) and Disneyland Paris (1992), and with the Disney World additions of EPCOT Center (1982), Disney-MGM Studios (1989), and Disney's Animal Kingdom Park (1998). EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) was conceived as an experiment in fusing education and entertainment and bears a striking resemblance to the Columbian Exposition. It praises American business and technology and envisions continued progress and features stylized representations of foreign villages. Disney World and Disneyland are the two most visited theme parks in America.

In the wake of Disneyland's success, several corporate-owned theme parks gradually came into being, including Six Flags, Busch Gardens, Carowinds, Cypress Gardens, and Kings Dominion. Unlike Disney, however, these parks tend to focus on thrill rides in addition to the creation of fantasy. But even though each park is different and each one bigger and more elaborate, the general idea of what makes an amusement park remained basically unchanged throughout the twentieth century.


Adams, Judith A. The American Amusement Park Industry: A History of Technology and Thrills. Boston: Twayne, 1991.

Fjellman, Stephen M. Vinyl Leaves: Walt Disney World and America. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1992.

Kasson, John F. Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century. New York: Hill and Wang, 1978.

Peiss, Kathy Lee. Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986.


See alsoDisney Corporation .

Amusement Parks

views updated Jun 11 2018

Amusement Parks

The pursuit of fun is a most American activity. Amusement parks developed as places where fun is the most important business, available year round, for a price. Since their creation in the late nineteenth century, amusement parks have changed as the culture has changed, but their appeal has remained constant. Amusement parks, with their games, rides, performances, and exotic foods, create a small separate world, away from the cares of everyday life, where having fun and being excited are the only demands made on the visitors.

From earliest times, people all over the world brightened their daily work lives with fairs and festivals. Circuses and other traveling shows made their rounds, creating a holiday when they arrived in town. Amusement parks differed from these events because they were permanent. In 1893, the rides and displays at the Chicago World's Fair (see entry under 1900s—The Way We Lived in volume 1) dazzled those who attended it. The fair inspired Paul Boyton (1848–1924) to build two permanent amusement parks, Chutes Park in Chicago, Illinois (1884), and Sea Lion Park at Coney Island near New York City (1885).

Coney Island became the most popular amusement area in the country between the 1890s and the 1950s. There, visitors could experience many different amusement parks side by side, such as Steeplechase Park and Luna Park. In 1887, George C. Tilyou (1862–1914) installed the country's first roller coaster (see entry under 1900s—The Way We Lived in volume 1) in Steeplechase Park. In the summer of 1947, six million people visited Coney Island over a four-day Fourth of July weekend.

By the 1920s, there were almost two thousand small amusement parks around the country, but the Great Depression (1929–41; see entry under 1930s—The Way We Lived in volume 2) and World War II (1939–45) had hurt the industry and reduced the number to several hundred. By the 1950s, amusement parks were no longer the glamorous, dazzling fairylands of the early 1900s but were seen as dirty, seedy places where low-class people gathered. Walt Disney (1901–1960; see entry under 1920s—Film and Theater in volume 2) changed all that in 1955, when he opened a new kind of amusement park.

Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom, also known as Disneyland, was a theme park, with several different parks (Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, and Frontierland, for example) within it. Disneyland, located in Anaheim, California introduced a new, clean-cut image to amusement parks. Theme parks, which reproduce another time or place within the park, remain the most popular type of modern amusement park. Disney has opened other parks, such as Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, in 1971; Disneyland Tokyo in Tokyo, Japan, in 1983; and EuroDisney in Paris, France, in 1992. Though Walt Disney World is the most popular amusement park in the world with over forty million visitors annually, many people criticize the Disney parks as being too artificial and too commercial.

In 2000, 161 million Americans went to amusement parks. Although the need for fun may be the same as that of park-goers at the turn of the last century, the fun itself has gotten more and more extreme. Coney Island's first roller coaster went six miles per hour in 1887. Modern roller coasters achieve speeds up to sixty miles per hour.

—Tina Gianoulis

For More Information

Adams, Judith A., and Edwin Perkins. The American Amusement ParkIndustry: A History of Technology and Thrills. Boston: Twayne, 1991.

Goldsack, Bob. A Century of Fun. Nashua, NH: Midway Museum Publications, 1993.

Greene, Katherine, and Richard Greene. The Man Behind the Magic: TheStory of Walt Disney. New York: Viking, 1998.

Van Steenwyk, Elizabeth. Behind the Scenes at the Amusement Park. Niles: IL: Albert Whitman & Company, 1983.

Watson, Bruce. "Three's a Crowd, They Say, But Not at Coney Island!" Smithsonian (Vol. 27, no. 9, December 1996): pp. 100–10.

Amusement Parks

views updated May 23 2018


Amusement parks developed in the United States during the last decade of the 1800s. In 1893 Chicago hosted the World's Columbian Exposition, the equivalent of a world's fair. One of the highlights of the event was a "pleasure wheel," built by American mechanical engineer George W. Gale Ferris (185996). Measuring 250 feet (76 meters) in diameter, the ride could carry sixty people at a time. The excitement and success of the Chicago fair inspired businessmen to build permanent outdoor carnivals elsewhere.

The first sizeable park was built at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York, which had been a recreation area since the mid-1800s. In 1897 it opened under the name of Steeplechase Park. In addition to a roller coaster, it included New York's first Ferris wheel. When New York City extended its subway in the 1920s to reach Coney Island, the resort became accessible to the masses, with whom it was very popular. It offered an escape from the monotony of daily life and showed that American industry could produce machines that were just plain fun.

Coney Island became the model for amusement parks around the country. In 1906 the Dream City amusement park opened in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a byproduct of an increase in American leisure time (between 1890 and 1920 the average work week in manufacturing dropped from 60 hours to 47.4 hours), recreation areas were part of the mass culture that was beginning to emerge in the United States at the turn of the century.

The model for amusement parks was reinvented in July, 1955, by American entrepreneur and entertainment mogul Walt Disney (190166), who opened Disneyland, a multi-acre theme park in Anaheim, California. The park included rides based on Disney movies, featured roving movie characters such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, and held daily parades on Main Street. Music, stage shows, and shops were all included in the price of admissionall entertainment was geared toward amusement for the whole family. In the decades that followed, carnival-like amusement parks gave way to theme parks inspired by Disneyland.

See also: Baseball, Bicycles, Walt Disney

theme park

views updated Jun 11 2018

theme park • n. an amusement park with a unifying setting or idea.

Theme Parks

views updated May 29 2018


THEME PARKS. SeeAmusement Parks .