Amusement parks have been around a lot longer than many of us think. In fact, their roots date back to the 1300's. Around this time 'pleasure gardens' began appearing on the outskirts of major European cities. They were much like some amusement parks today (Bushkill Park, Easton, PA is a perfect example), they featured live entertainment, fireworks, dancing, games and some small gentle rides. They remained extremely popular until politcal unrest cause many to close. A few did survive though and some are still thriving today, such as Bakken Park, north of Copenhagen, is the world's oldest operating amusement park pleasing crowds since 1583.
In the late 1800's, the industry bursted into the United States. Most of the parks opening around this time were 'trolley parks'. Trolley parks were operated by trolley companies trying to make money on weekends, when business was slow. A few dozen trolley parks are still operating today, Pittsburgh's Kennywood Park, Dorney Park in Allentown, PA, are perfect examples. Another type of parks were picnic groves, these were mainly wooded grounds that had picnic tables and a lake for boating. Pennsylvania's historic William's Grove Park was one of the first public picnic groves.
The industry grew tremendously over the next 3 decades. The center of the industry was Coney Island in New York. Contray to popular belief, Coney Island was never an amusement park. What Coney Island was and will most likely always be is a home to amusements. 3 of the earliest parks at Coney Island were engineering masterpieces: Dreamland; Luna; and Steeplechase.
The Great Depression hurt the amusement park hard. People did not have the spare cash to spend at amusement parks. Because of that, the 1500 parks that were operating in 1919 shortened to about 400. World War II hurt made the list of parks grow shorter even more. Many parks closed, a few reopened years later, but most closed their gates forever.
The invention of TV allowed people to enjoy entertainment at a low cost, therefore amusement parks lost guests. In 1955, Walt Disney's Disneyland changed the industry forever. Disneyland featured 5 theme sections, a thought that seemed impossible for any park to survive. Although Disneyland was one of the first successful themeparks, Holiday World, Santa Claus, IN was the first.
It wasn't until 1961 that a theme park had success like Disney did. Six Flags Over Texas opened with great fanfare. Now the Six Flags company owns over 30 parks worldwide. However, these and other themeparks caused many older, tradional parks to close their gates. But a couple dozen did survive, a few turning into full-blown theme parks.
Technolgy had advanced so much in the 1980's and 1990's that rides thought impossible just 10 years earlier were now possible. Shuttle coasters, launch towers, and hypercoasters are just a few.
While many parks are still alive, over 2000 parks have been buried in the amusement park graveyard. Patronize amusement parks to prevent more parks from being buried.