The United States’ first amusement park precursor, Vauxhall Gardens, opened in New York City in 1767. It was a Pleasure Garden, a simplified derivative of similar gardens that by then had existed in Europe for quite a while. Compared to the most exotic current amusement parks, 87 it was a simple affair, offering quiet relaxation, summer concerts, food (including that exciting new invention, ice cream), and an outdoor wax museum.
In the early 1800s they were offering theatrical productions and one of America’s first carousels. (Futrell 2011) An interesting step came with the advent of the trolley park. In most cities with growing systems of trolley cars providing public transportation to get people to and from work, the trolleys were not busy—and so not making any money—on weekends. Some trolley companies decided that a way to fix this and start making money on the weekends was to open an amusement venue in an empty space along an out-of-town part of their system. The first trolley parks offered cool open spaces for relaxation, accented with amenities like picnic grounds (bring your own food!), musical concerts, and even dance halls. Group events were sponsored, like company outings (e.g., the XYZ Company Summer Outing) and ethnic festivals (like Italian Day or Croatian Day) featuring appropriate music and food.
A number of trolley parks remain in business today (2013). A notable one is Kennywood Park in the Pittsburgh, PA, suburb of West Mifflin. Kennywood was started in 1898, by the Monongahela Street Railway Company, which was controlled by Andrew Mellon 88 and Frederick W. Henninger. (Kennywood 2012) Their families remained the owners until around 2010. In 2013 Kennywood is still very much a family park, and still features events like Nationality Days, Community Days, and high school band parades. Kennywood has a few rides aimed at dedicated thrill seekers, but keeps a number of “tamer” rides suitable for the whole family.
More than one of their roller coasters has made a “Top Ten” list at one time or another Not every amusement park has followed this path. There are some that strive to attract people from around the world who want to ride the tallest or fastest or “baddest” rides. Cedar Point, located on the shore of Lake Erie in Sandusky, Ohio, is this sort of park. They bill themselves as The Best Amusement Park in the World, and have a collection of extreme roller coasters and other rides to back this up. (Cedar Point 2012) Amusement parks like this do become “destination parks,” to which thrill-ride aficionados travel one time, or at most occasionally, in order to enjoy the unique set of experiences. This contrasts to “family” parks which cater to a more local clientele who will make repeat visits. The attractions in amusement parks are varied and not necessarily related. The planning concept is to provide a variety of attractions that will attract the attention of, and provide enjoyment for people representing a large variety of ages and interests. In addition to thrill rides and a limited number of slow but exciting dark rides (once exemplified by the Tunnel of Love), amusement parks typically have games of skill, like Skee Ball or the chance to win an oversized plush animal by throwing baseballs at (weighted) wooden “milk bottles”. They do not usually have sit-down shows or other non-participative attractions.