Amusement park is the more generic term for a collection of amusement rides and other entertainment attractions assembled for the purpose of entertaining a fairly large group of people. An amusement park is more elaborate than a simple city park or playground, as an amusement park is meant to cater to adults, teenagers and small children.
An amusement park may be permanent or temporary, usually periodic, such as a few days or weeks per year. The temporary (often annual) amusement park with mobile rides etc. is called a fun fair or carnival.
The original amusement parks were the historical precursors to the modern theme parks as well as the more traditional midway arcades and rides at county and state fairs (in the United States).
History of the American amusement parks
The present article deals with amusement parks in the United States. For a remarkable example of a European park, dating from 1843 and still existing, see Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen.
The first American amusement park, in the modern sense, was at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago, Illinois. The 1893 World's fair was the first to have a Ferris Wheel and an arcade midway, as well as various concessions. This conglomeration of attractions was the template used for amusement parks for the next half-century.
In 1897, Steeplechase Park, the first of three significant amusement parks opened at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. Often, it is Steeplechase Park that comes to mind when one generically thinks of the heyday of Coney Island. Steeplechase Park was a huge success and by the late 1910s, there were hundreds of amusement parks in operation around the world. The introduction of the world-famous Cyclone roller coaster at Steeplechase Park in 1927 marked the beginning of the roller coaster as one of the most popular attractions for amusement parks as well as the later modern theme parks of today.
During the peak of the "golden age" of amusement parks from roughly the turn of the 20th century through the late 1920s, Coney Island at one point had three distinct amusement parks: Steeplechase Park, Luna Park (opened in 1903), and Dreamland (opened in 1904). However, the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II during the 1940s saw the decline of the amusement park industry. Furthermore, 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.
By the 1950s, factors such as urban decay, crime, and even desegregation led to changing patterns in how people chose to spend their free time. Many of the older, traditional amusement parks had closed or burned to the ground. Many would be taken out by the wrecking ball to make way for suburban development. In 1964, Steeplechase Park, once the king of all amusement parks, closed down for the last time.
In 1955, Disneyland in Anaheim, California revived the amusement industry with its themed lands and matching attractions instead of using the older formula with traditional rides in one area and a midway, concessions, and sideshow attractions in another. The idea of theme parks caught on and, by the 1980s, became a billion dollar-a-year industry in the United States and around the world.
Other noteworthy amusement parks