The amusement park evolved from three earlier traditions. The oldest of these traditions, was the periodic fair of the Middle Ages in which one of the earliest was the Bartholomew Fair in England, which began in 1133. By the 18th and 19th century, 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.
A wave of innovation in the 1860s and 1870s created mechanical rides, such as the steam-powered carousel (built by Thomas Bradshaw, at the Aylsham Fair), and its derivatives. This inaugurated the era of the modern funfair ride, as the working classes were increasingly able to spend their surplus wages on entertainment.
The second influence was the pleasure garden. One of the earliest gardens was the Vauxhall Gardens, founded in 1661 in London. By the late 18th century, the site had an admission fee for its many attractions. It regularly drew enormous crowds, with its paths being noted for romantic assignations; tightrope walkers, hot air balloon ascents, concerts and fireworks provided amusement. Although the gardens were originally designed for the elites, they soon became places of great social diversity. Public firework displays were put on at Marylebone Gardens, and Cremorne Gardens offered music, dancing and animal acrobatics displays.
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 Fleetwood. Fleetwood declined as a resort, as its founder and principal financial backer, Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood, went bankrupt. 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 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 the first to charge admission to get into the park in addition to sell tickets for rides within the park. [Ref 1]
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 amusement park Coney Island also featured Luna Park and Dreamland. Coney Island was a huge success and by year 1910 attendance on days could reach a million people. Fueled by the efforts of Frederick Ingersoll, other “Luna Parks” were quickly erected worldwide and opened to rave reviews.
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 opened up a pleasure ride of flying carriages that revolved around a central pylon. Other rides included the ‘Grotto’ (a fantasy ride), ‘River Caves’ (a scenic railway), water chutes and a toboganning tower.[Ref 2]
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 American Gilded Age was, in fact, amusement parks’ Golden Age that reigned until the late 1920s. 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. The kiddie parks became popular all over America after World War II.
This era saw the development of the new innovations of 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. The Amusement Parks after the war continued to be successful, while urban parks saw declining attendance. The 1920’s are more properly known as the Gold Age of Roller Coasters, being the decade of frenetic building for the rides.
In 1955, Disneyland opened to rave reviews, and completely changed the landscape of the amusement park industry. No longer did guests want a group of rides in a field by a lake, they wanted an entire perfect world to take them out of the real world for a day. The thrills of theme parks are often obscured from the outside by landscaping. They are kept clean and new rides are frequently added to keep people coming back. In addition to this experience, the theme park is either based on a central theme or divided into several distinctly themed areas, or “lands”. 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 each year.
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 and Busch Gardens parks also offer educational experiences, with each of the parks housing several thousand animals, fish and other sea life in dozens of attractions and exhibits focusing on animal education.[Ref 3]
Created in 1977, the Puy du Fou is a much celebrated theme park in Vendée, France. It is centered around European, French and local history. It received several international prizes, including the “Applause Award” in 2014 from IAAPA.
Some theme parks did evolve from more traditional amusement park enterprises, such as Knott’s Berry Farm. In the 1920s, Walter Knottand his family sold berries from a roadside stand, which grew to include a restaurant serving fried chicken dinners. Within a few years, lines outside the restaurant were often several hours long. To entertain the waiting crowds, Walter Knott built a Ghost Town in 1940, using buildings relocated from real old west towns such as the Calico, California ghost town and Prescott, Arizona. In 1968, the Knott family fenced the farm, charged admission for the first time, and Knott’s Berry Farm officially became an amusement park.
The first regional theme park, as well as the first Six Flags park, Six Flags over Texas was officially opened in 1961 in Arlington, Texas near Dallas. The first Six Flags theme park was the vision of Angus Wynne, Jr. and helped create the modern, competitive theme park industry. In the late 1950s, Wynne visited Disneyland and was inspired to create an affordable, closer, and larger theme park that would be filled with fantasy.
Amusement parks collect much of their revenue from admission fees paid by guests attending the park. Other revenue sources include parking fees, food and beverage sales and souvenirs.
Practically all amusement parks operate using one of two admission principles, Pay As You Go and Pay One Price. Both of these Admission Principles have their advantages and disadvantages which tend to weight each other out, but the more commonly used Principal is the Pay One Price.
As you can tell, there has been a lot of history behind Theme Parks which we know and love today. Without all of these important and world changing points in the life of the Entertainment Industry Theme Parks wouldn’t be what they are today.