Welcome back to Flashback Friday! This week we’ll focus on a classic Disney coaster that introduced tubular steel track and revolutionized the industry. Yes, I’m talking about the Matterhorn Bobsleds.
After Switchback Railway opened at Coney Island, roller coasters became extremely popular among Americans. In no time, new amusement parks were appearing all over the map and installing their own roller coasters, building them higher and faster than ever before. Though these rides certainly outdid each other, one key component kept their design from vastly improving – their track. The flat wood track found on these early coasters was rough and difficult to manipulate. Hairpin turns, sudden drops, and over-banks were nearly impossible to achieve with the technology of that time. Something had to be done to improve the track’s design, but what? A California ride manufacturer called Arrow Development would finally find the answer.
Arrow Development began in 1946 as a machine shop that sold auto parts, and, later on, merry-go-rounds. Led by Ed Morgan and Karl Bacon, the company soon began designing small thrill rides for nearby amusement parks, and the high quality of their work caught the eye of an entrepreneur named Walt Disney. Disney was looking for engineers to design the rides for his theme park, Disneyland, so the three struck a deal.
After the two companies collaborated on many of Disneyland’s original rides, including Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Walt Disney revealed his dream for a new kind of thrill ride, called the Matterhorn Bobsleds. Weaving in and out of a giant man-made mountain, bobsleds would race at high speeds on a wild trip to the bottom. Disney challenged Arrow to engineer the ride, and the innovative design they came up with was a marvel of its time. Two different tracks would interact as they twisted and dropped throughout the mountain. With a safety system in place, several large bobsled cars could run individually at the same time, similar to a wild mouse coaster. But the greatest invention of the ride was its first-of-its kind track.
Designed to handle the wild drops and turns of the layout, Arrow’s new track was made of tubular steel. The steel was perfectly smooth and could be precisely manufactured in any shape needed. It was a breakthrough design that would change the roller coaster industry forever.
The Matterhorn Bobsleds opened in 1959 to immediate success. As one of the first true thrill rides to open, the coaster quickly became the most popular ride at Disneyland. Arrow Development’s new steel track became extremely sought after, and the company was soon showered with requests from other amusement parks who wanted an innovative design of their own.
Though the Matterhorn Bobsleds have seen a few design changes and refurbishments over the years, they still run great today, nearly 60 years later, and are still very popular. Watch a POV video of the coaster below:
Thanks for reading! Next week we’ll take a look at the coaster that helped the industry recover from the Great Depression.