Pittsburgh Exposition roller coasters

The Greater Pittsburgh Exposition was an annual event which occurred in the fall of each year between 1889 and 1916. The exposition was located where Point State Park and PNC Park are in Pittsburgh today. The grounds were spread between downtown Pittsburgh and the city of Allegheny (today the North Shore).

The first roller coaster at the Expo was a Switchback Railway. The exposition was aware of the demand of having a roller coaster of some type; to meet this demand, the exposition installed not only one Switchback Railway, but a second one right next to it.

1895 Switchback Railway

This is a drawing of the Switchback Railway from an 1895 Greater Pittsburgh Exposition souvenir book.

This may be the first instance of a twin roller coaster operation.

1895 Souvenir Booklet Switchback Railway

A description of the Switchback Railway, in an 1895 Greater Pittsburgh Exposition souvenir book.

The twin coasters opened on September 4, 1895. They were each five hundred feet long, for a round trip of one thousand feet, cost $10,000 to construct, and cost a nickel to ride. It was manufactured by James A. Griffiths, of Connecticut, who made several other switchbacks in the Pittsburgh area. In 1896, the coasters were renamed Gravity Railway.

1895-09-02 Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette (p5)

Advert for The Greater Pittsburgh Exposition, printed in the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, on September 2, 1895, on page 2. The pleasure railway is the Switchback Railway roller coaster.

T.M. Harton & Company manufactured and operated many of the other rides at the Greater Pittsburgh Exposition. Harton manufactured the second roller coaster the exposition had – a figure-8 roller coaster called Toboggan Slide. Harton purchased the right to build the Toboggan Slide from E. Joy Morris, patentee of the roller coaster.

Built at a cost of $15,000 in 1901, this coaster was built because a large fire destroyed a significant part of the Exposition grounds, including the Switchback Railway. The fire occurred on St. Patrick’s Day 1901, and property loss was reported at a value of $242,000.

1901-09-12 [East Liverpool, OH] Evening News Review (p2) [crop]

The New Pittsburgh Exposition, 1901. Based on an advertisement in an East Liverpool, Ohio, newspaper, the Evening News Review from September 12, 1901.

Toboggan Slide was reconstructed in the 1911 season and continued operating each season until the Pittsburgh Exposition closed after the 1916 season.

exposition9

The Point is where three rivers meet – the Allegheny River and the Monongahela River combine to form the Ohio River. Eventually, this was all cleared out to make way for Point State Park.

point9

Point State Park today.


Table of inflation adjustments for costs mentioned in this article. 

$10,000 in 1895 US dollars = $274,380.23 in 2017 US dollars
$0.05 in 1895 US dollars = $1.37 in 2017 US dollars
$15,000 in 1901 US dollars = $411,570.35 in 2017 US dollars
$242,000 in 1901 US dollars = $6,640,001.58 in 2017 US dollars


To learn more about the Greater Pittsburgh Exposition, check out Pittsburghhockey.net which discusses the Winter Garden, one of the buildings that was part of the expo, and The Brookline Connection, which also discusses Exposition Hall. This blog post from That’s Church in 2013 also gives some good background on what was around the Point in the late 19th Century / early 20th Century. 

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