Will your summer include a screaming good ride on a roller coaster or a water-soaked ride at an amusement park?
If so, tip your hat to Fred Ingersoll, a leading roller coaster designer and imaginative entrepreneur who formed Ingersoll Construction in Pittsburgh back in 1901. The firm built roller coasters and rides for amusement parks.
Ingersoll was a man with the right idea and the right skills at the right time. Construction of amusement parks boomed between 1899 and 1905, a period in which 75 new parks were built each year.
Born in New Jersey in 1874, he created the nation’s first chain of 44 amusement parks. He also built or designed 277 roller coasters. Among his inventions were Kennywood Park’s first Racer roller coaster, a Three-Way Figure-Eight Toboggan that opened in 1902.
One of five brothers of German ancestry, Ingersoll started out by designing slot machines, then moved on to roller coasters and scenic railways. His family’s rifle range, or shooting gallery, was at the Downtown intersection of Liberty and Seventh avenues.
In 1905, when Pittsburgh was spelled without an ‘h,’ Ingersoll built Luna Park at Craig Street and Baum Boulevard in Oakland. Modeled after Luna Park on New York’s Coney Island, the amusement park featured lots of live entertainment with animal acts, acrobats, equestrians and memorable performers such as Mademoiselle Novi and her triple-somersaulting automobile.
Luna Park offered concert bands, picnic pavilions and dance halls as well as a coaster-like boat ride called Shoot the Chutes. The park buildings were designed in architectural styles that ranged from Japanese to Moorish and the entire place gleamed with 67,000 electric lights.
The park closed in 1909. Ingersoll declared bankruptcy in 1911 and died in 1929. The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions inducted him into its hall of fame in 1992.