A look back at 50 years of fun and memories at Kings Island
In the fall of 1971, Coney Island, an amusement park on the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati, closed its gates for the final time, ending an era in entertainment. The following spring, another era began when the turnstiles began spinning in Kings Mills, Ohio at the new Kings Island Amusement Park. When the gates opened April 29, 1972, the stage was set for the next 50 years of world-class thrills, fun and family entertainment.
As Kings Island celebrates its 50th anniversary season this year, employees who experienced the transition from Coney Island to Kings Island like International Theme Park Services, Inc. President Dennis Speigel, remember it being hard leaving a place that so many people absolutely loved and enjoyed, but exciting to become part of a state-of-the-art facility.
“The transition was empirical in every sense of the word,” Speigel said. “Our employee base expanded ten times over and our property size increased from 155 acres to over 1600. Annual attendance more than doubled, from 1 million at Coney Island to more than 2 million the first year. Revenues grew seven-fold. I was, and continue to be, very proud of being a part of the history and the making of this world-class amusement park.”
Although The Racer is still speeding up and down the tracks and the Grand Carousel still spins as it did 50 years ago, the Park has gone through many changes. When Kings Island opened, there were just over 60 attractions for guests to enjoy. Now, after 50 years of capital investments more than $400 million, there are more than 100 attractions.
In 1972, five themed areas were highlighted. Today there are eight. The employment opportunities have changed dramatically as well. Where it once took 1,300 employees to operate the park on any given day during the season, it now requires approximately 5,000 to keep the 364-acre amusement and water park in operation. The changes have not been limited to the park itself. The area surrounding the park, once farmland, now thrives with commercial and retail businesses, as well as the incredibly increased population of homes.
An annual visit to Kings Island has become tradition for literally millions of people. More than 140 million visitors have experienced the park’s fun and thrills since 1972 making Kings Island one of the most celebrated amusement parks in the world.
“I loved working there (from 1972 until retirement in 2020) because we were in the business to make people happy,” Jim Newport said, “There is never a dull moment.”
For Brad Perdue of Indianapolis, his family made it a yearly trip to visit Kings Island when he was a child.
"I always loved the anticipation of seeing the Eiffel Tower and roller coasters coming into view as we were coming up I-71," Perdue said. "I will always remember my first big roller coaster being The Racer. My family and I loved riding it together. We'd ride The Racer as many times as we could the last half-hour of the night until they closed the line. That because our family tradition on every visit to Kings Island."
Kings Island has accumulated a long list of industry firsts and hosted many notable events over the past 50 years. It’s an impressive evolution to look back at.
Kings Island Year-by-Year:
1970: On June 15, 1970, the Taft Broadcasting Company broke ground and began the construction of Kings Island led by the Charles V. Maescher & Co. Construction firm. By the end of the year construction of the Eiffel Tower, Royal Fountains and Racer roller coaster was underway. The Park was dubbed Kings Island, after the town of Kings Mills in which the park was built and its famous predecessor on the Banks of the Ohio River, Coney Island. Only 150 of the 1600 acres purchased were utilized to begin building the park.
1971: Construction of the Eiffel Tower, Royal Fountain and Racer roller coaster was completed by early fall. By Thanksgiving, rides and attractions had been transported and installed from Coney Island, including the Dodgem, Scrambler, Monster, Rotor, Log Flume, Sky Ride, Tumblebug and Flying Scooters.
1972: After two years of construction, Kings Island opened to public April 29, 1972. The two flagship rides were the Racer and the Enchanted Voyage dark ride through Hanna-Barbera's cartoon land. The Racer was the first twin-track wooden coaster to be built in modern times and at speeds approaching 60 mph, it was the fastest, too. At $2 million, the dark ride was the most expensive attraction in the park. Other popular rides included: the Rotor, the Tumblebug, the Skyride, the Turnpike Cars, the Scooby-Doo roller coaster, the Monster, the Antique Cars, and the Kings Island & Miami Valley Railroad.
1973: On April 18, 1973, the park announced the completion of a $6 million expansion project. Three rides were added - the Flying Dutchmen, the Bayern Kurve, and a second log flume - as well as a new games arcade, a 1/2-mile nature trail, and a sit down, fine-dining restaurant specializing in chicken dishes and sourdough bread. The Park gained national attention in January when The Partridge Family aired an episode shot entirely at the park in 1972 called, "I Left My Heart in Cincinnati." Former Cincinnati Reds’ great and National Baseball Hall of Fame member, Johnny Bench, and former Miss Ohio, Mary Ann Mobley, guest starred. Not about to be outdone, the entire cast of The Brady Bunch visited the park in August to shoot their own episode.
1974: A fifth themed area was added this year - the 100-acre Lion Country Safari (later known as Wild Animal Habitat). During early stages of construction, developers decided to take the then popular drive-through nature park a step further. By adding a monorail ride, a new concept in animal preservation was born in the country. Grand opening guests this year witnessed a record-breaking high wire walk by 69-year-old Karl Wallenda.
1975: Daredevil Evel Knievel successfully jumped over 14 Greyhound buses on his motorcycle in the Kings Island parking lot on October 25 to set a new world's record. The jump was nationally televised by ABC-TV's "Wide World of Sports" and held the highest rating in the show’s history. Additions to the park included the Zodiac, one of only two double Ferris wheels in the United States at the time, and the world's largest floral hanging basket weighing in at approximately eight tons.
1976: Following the collapse of the park's air theatre from a heavy snowstorm, the imposing American Heritage Music Hall (now known as Kings Island Theater) was erected at a cost of $1.8 million. This event ended the standing joke in the air theatre that preceded every live show -- "In case of sudden loss of air pressure, everyone should lie down on the floor and blow up at the ceiling!" On July 4, the park held a unique bicentennial celebration that made Time Magazine. Paul Revere, band leader of the popular group Paul Revere and the Raiders, was married on this day with members of his band dressed in authentic revolutionary uniforms. Also, this year, the Racer became the one and only ride to have more than 3 million riders in one season. The 1976 total for the Racer was 3,681,338.
1977: The park's major new attraction this year, the Screamin' Demon, was the first steel looping coaster in the United States to run both forward and backward. The entertainment program was expanded once again with the construction of the 1,700-seat outdoor International Showplace Theater which was officially dedicated by comedian Dick Van Dyke. Van Dyke also served as the park's commercial spokesperson. Other new attractions included the Fascination game building in the Coney Mall area and the introduction of the park’s famous thick-cut fries at the Rivertown Potato Works.
1978: The College Football Hall of Fame joined the Kings Island complex. The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) championship tournament was held at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Course across the street from the park. At the park, a new Tower Gardens area was opened, an electronic shooting gallery was the new game, and the wildlife preserve became home for 15 black-footed penguins from Africa. Comedian Jonathan Winters added his talents and humor to the role of park commercial spokesperson.
1979: The Beast, the “biggest, baddest, longest, fastest coaster in the world”, begins to terrify park guests. The monster of a ride is designed and built in-house. It includes underground tunnels, two lift-hills, and a frightening 540-degree helix finale. Season passes are introduced.
1980: Several improvements were made to the Beast this year, including re-banking parts of the track, enclosing the 540-degree helix-turn, and joining the other two main tunnels. Consumer demand prompted the opening of The Beast souvenir shop near the ride where "I tamed the Beast" buttons were the hot commodity. A wine and cheese shop in the Oktoberfest area rounded out the year's new product.
1981: In the spring of 1981, a totally new concept in steel roller coasters landed at the park. The $3.8 million Bat was the prototype suspended roller coaster featuring free swinging cars that "flew" at speeds over 50 mph and hung from an overhead track. Although the Bat was popular with guests, it was dismantled and removed in 1984 due to continual mechanical difficulties. In July, the Wild Animal Habitat joined the Cincinnati Zoo and the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine to establish the Cincinnati Wildlife Federation to propagate endangered species. Finally, roving atmosphere performers like jugglers and magicians were added to unexpectedly entertain guests throughout the park.
1982: The Park pulled out all the stops this year with one exciting announcement after another. In the ride department, the Viking Fury swinging ship debuted along with a $2.1 million expansion renovation of Hanna-Barbera Land. Another ride first occurred when one of the trains on The Racer was turned around to travel in the backwards direction. The other side of the twin racing roller coaster remained traveling forward. The hit of the summer was the 10,000-seat TimberWolf Ampitheatre which would bring top name concert acts to the area. The kickoff concert was Air Supply July 9. The biggest news of the year was the announcement that Kings Island would become the first amusement/theme park in the country to open for the winter holidays.
1983: Kings Island's new $2.5 million German Festhaus first opened during Winterfest in 1982, but in the 1983 summer season it featured live entertainment and international food selections. The entire Oktoberfest themed area was refurbished. The Cincinnati Wildlife Research Federation's embryo program in an exotic species resulted in the birth of a female calf in June at Kings Island. It was an eland-to-eland transfer and a first in veterinary medicine history.
1984: The Park unveiled yet another United States first -- a stand-up, steel looping roller coaster dubbed King Cobra. The high-tech ride was joined by the introduction of the sensational blue Smurfs cartoon characters. Not only could the Smurfs be found at the front gate greeting visitors, but the Enchanted
Voyage ride was re-themed to feature their adventures. The Cincinnati Wildlife Research Foundation enjoyed two more research breakthroughs involving embryo transfers.
1985: White Water Canyon, a $4 million rapid river ride, led the park to a then-record attendance high of 2,981,861 visitors. The ride, specifically designed for Kings Island by Intamin, Inc. of Zurich, Switzerland, drenched each six-passenger raft on its 1,680-foot-long channel through rapids, whirlpools, and geysers. Later, coin-operated "geyser" machines were added to allow spectators the opportunity to soak riders too. Signs at the beginning of the ride queue line read, "You WILL get wet on this ride!"
1986: During Kings Island's conception, park officials continually stressed that Coney Island was much too valuable and memorable to be destroyed. Thus, an entire area was set up in remembrance of Coney and in just six weeks after it closed in 1971, most of Coney's rides were transported and installed to their new home at Kings Island. The area was expanded in 1986 with the additions of the 90-foot-high wheel called Skylab, the Zephyr swing ride, and refurbishment of the Dodgem bumper cars. The Cinema 180 Theatre was also added at the end of Coney Mall. The 60 by 30-foot-high screen was designed to make viewers feel as though they were part of the action -- whether this was pulling 5-G's while flying with the U.S. Air Force "Thunderbirds", flying over the Mt. St. Helen's crater, or feeling out of control on a run-away train.
1987: Visitors felt the grip of Vortex, a $4 million roller coaster constructed with 750 tons of steel. The coaster turns rider’s upside down six times -- more than any other ride in the world when it opened. Vortex again put Kings Island in the national and international spotlight with crews from Entertainment Tonight, Good Morning America, and a Chinese television station visiting the park. Kings Island also presented its first ice skating show, "Hot Ice," in the German Festhaus. Co-produced by Ice Capades producer Bietak Productions in Los Angeles, CA, the spectacular featured 10 national and world figure skaters.
1988: Following the success of the White Water Canyon ride, the park installed another water attraction guaranteed to soak visitors, not just get them wet. With Amazon Falls (now Congo Falls), a deck was built over the waterfall drop where observers could experience the feel of a "tidal wave" as gallons of water came crashing toward them. A new 3-D move, "Sea Dream," added an unusual dimension to the park's entertainment package. The movie was directed by Academy Award filmmaker Murray Lerner, who is also credited with reinventing the 3-D process. The Park also initiated an annual Science Day program for children of all ages and levels of scientific knowledge. Students were challenged to calculate the speed, energy, and physical reactions of various park attractions. Sixty-two schools throughout the tri-state and West Virginia participated.
1989: Waterworks, a new 12-acre themed area of exciting water attractions opened at Kings Island. The $4.2 million addition featured 15 wet and wild water slides, a river inner-tube ride, a children's water activities area, and a live reggae band playing island favorites. The legendary Beast celebrated its 10th anniversary.
1990: Flight Commander, a futuristic flight simulator ride kicked off the year. A joystick in each pod allowed visitors to become the "pilot" leading the capsule into climbs, dives, and barrel rolls. The American Heritage Music Hall presented a new live show format with "It's Magic." The show featured seven spectacular illusions created by internationally famous magician Mark Wilson.
1991: Continuing the unique roller coaster legacy, the Park introduced an adventure style coaster complete with special lighting, sound, and mechanical effects with Adventure Express. Lazer Maze, the latest in game technology, was another hit this year. Game participants were armed with a special infrared light gun to "zap" moving targets. The merchandise department introduced the new "Hanna-Barbera Shop" featuring limited edition cartoon cels for the young at heart. Olympic figure skating medalist Debi Thomas performed for guests on the International Street ice rink during Winterfest and hot teen stars from the year's most popular TV shows "Beverly Hills 90210" and the "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" made special appearances.
1992: Kings Island celebrated its 20th anniversary season this year. The party began with the debut of a new haunted ride Phantom Theater, the Enchanted Theatre for children, a children's steel roller coaster, an exciting anniversary parade, and many other special events. In August, Paramount Communications, Inc. purchased Kings Island and KECO to form Paramount Parks.
1993: Top Gun (now Flight Deck), a fun-filled suspended roller coaster that takes guests on an unforgettable jet ride, opens near Lion Country Safari. Columbia Palace in Rivertown becomes Wings Diner. Busytown Grill replaces Quickdraw's Cafe. The German Bier Gardens is re-named Oktoberfest Gardens. At the end of the season, the Lion Country Safari and monorail is removed.
1994: Days of Thunder, an exciting new NASCAR racing simulator, opens in Coney Mall between the Racer's turnarounds. The Wild Animal Habitat becomes Adventure Village. Preston T. Tucker's Roadside Cafe, based on the 1988 Paramount movie "Tucker: The Man and his Dream" opens in Coney Mall.
1995: Green slime invades the park when Nickelodeon Splat City explodes onto the scene, introducing a new brand of messy fun. The Skycoaster opens in Adventure Village.
1996: The Outer Limits: Flight of Fear launches onto the scene as a first-of-its-kind roller coaster. The extraterrestrial ride is completely enclosed in a large building. XS Raceway, an upcharge go-kart attraction, begins racing.
1997: Kings Island celebrates its 25th anniversary season. WaterWorks is doubled in size with Surfside Bay, a large new wave pool, and a children’s play area, Buccaneer Island. Skylab is retired before the end of the season.
1998: This season saw a major makeover in Hanna-Barbera Land. Scooby's Ghoster Coaster, Yogi's Sky Tours, Atom Ant's Airways are among the new attractions added. A new attraction opens in WaterWorks, the Wipeout Beach surfing area. Days of Thunder was renamed Paramount Action FX Theater and featured a new film, James Bond 007: A License to Thrill.
1999: The new Face/Off inverted looping roller coaster and the Drop Zone Stunt Tower open in the new Paramount Action Zone section of the park. Face/Off (now Invertigo) is the only looping, forward and backward, face-to-face inverted coaster in the Midwest. Drop Zone (now Drop Tower) is the world's tallest gyro-drop at a staggering 315 feet. Construction begins on a major new attraction. On July 8, the Park announces it is building a record-breaking roller coaster, Son of Beast. The ride will be the world's tallest, fastest, and only looping wooden roller coaster.
2000: Son of Beast, a record-breaking thrill ride, is unleashed. It is the world’s tallest, fastest, and only looping wooden roller coaster. A scary new Halloween event, FearFest, begins in September.
2001: Areas of Rivertown and Hanna-Barbera Land are re-themed into Nickelodeon Central. New attractions include Rugrats Runaway Reptar, the world's first inverted roller coaster for kids, and the Wild Thornberry's River Adventure, which had formerly been known as the Log Flume. The 7th Portal is the new attraction in the Action FX Theater. This year marked the final season for King Cobra. Gold Season Passes are introduced and include free season-long parking and other exciting VIP perks.
2002: Kings Island celebrates its 30th Anniversary season with the premiere of Tomb Raider: The Ride, a heavily-themed, totally immersive dark ride adventure. This collaborated effort between Paramount Studios and Kings Island marks the first in a unique experience where riders attempt to survive numerous Tomb Raider encounters. Construction begins in July on a new dark ride experience for 2003.
2003: The Park introduces something for every member of the family with the addition of three new attractions: Scooby-Doo and the Haunted Castle, Delirium and SpongeBob SquarePants 3-D. Delirium is the world's first HUSS Giant Frisbee. The Fountain on International Street was rebuilt. In September, high winds destroy the park's marquee sign located by Kings Island Drive.
2004: The Beast celebrates its 25th anniversary season. A 25th anniversary video is played in the Beast's queue line. WaterWorks is replaced with Crocodile Dundee’s Boomerang Bay, an Australian-themed water park resort with several new waterslides and experiences. The classic Flying Eagles and Antique Cars are both retired.
2005: The Italian Job: Stunt Track opens as a new, fully themed action stunt car experience in Coney Mall. Happy Days Diner replaces Preston T. Tucker's Roadside Cafe just around the corner from the park's newest roller coaster. Chick-Fil-A, Graeter's Ice Cream and Starbucks open at the park. In November, a long-time Cincinnati favorite holiday tradition returns for the first time in more than a decade with Winterfest.
2006: The World's Best Kids' area undergoes an incredible makeover to become Nickelodeon Universe, complete with three new rides and two new themed sections. New rides include Avatar: The Last Airbender, Phantom Flyers and Plankton's Plunge. On June 30, Cedar Fair Entertainment Company (NYSE: FUN) purchased Paramount Parks from CBS Corporation for $1.25 billion.
2007: For its 35th anniversary season, Kings Island introduces Firehawk -- Ohio's only flying coaster. Willing test pilots soar 115 feet through five inversions at speeds of more than 50 miles per hour. The park's live shows program is expanded including the return of an ice show in the indoor theater. In the fall, Kings Island's Halloween event is upgraded to the more immersive and scarier Halloween Haunt. The backwards Racer gives its final rides.
2008: Kings Island introduces new names for several rides and attractions. Drop Zone is changed to Drop Tower; Top Gun to Flight Deck; Italian Job: Stunt Track to Backlot Stunt Coaster; Face/Off to Invertigo; Tomb Raider: The Ride to The Crypt; Days of Thunder to Thunder Alley; Paramount Theatre to Kings Island Theater; FX Theatre to Action Theater; and Bubba Gump Shrimp Shack to Outer Hanks. Daredevil Robbie Knievel jumped his motorcycle over 24 Coke Zero trucks in the parking lot to set a new world record. Aerialist Rick Wallenda sets a record with a 2,000-foot skywalk from the Eiffel Tower and over the fountains to the front gate and back again.
2009: Diamondback is introduced. The $22 million steel roller coaster stands 230 feet at its highest point with a first drop of 215 feet at a 74-degree angle. The Park set a new amusement/theme park record for the most money raised for a first riders’ auction on Diamondback with $107,000 for the charitable organization A Kid Again. The Beast celebrates its 30th Anniversary season. Aerialist Nik Wallenda walks an 800-foot long, 262-foot-high tightrope above the park.
2010: Kings Island’s award-winning kids’ area received a fresh new look with a timeless classic. Planet Snoopy debuts with more than 18 PEANUTS-themed rides and attractions, including a live stage show and daily character meet-and-greets. An interactive family dark ride, Boo Blasters on Boo Hill, opens on International Street.
2011: Two new major attractions debut this season, WindSeeker and Dinosaurs Alive! WindSeeker, a $5 million, 301-foot-tall tower ride, spins riders 30 stories above the park. Seated in two-person swings that allow their feet to dangle free, riders slowly begin rotating in a circular motion as the swings ascend the tower. At the top, the swings reach speeds up to 30 mph, flaring out 45 degrees from the tower. Dinosaurs Alive! at Kings Island is the world's largest animatronic dinosaur park and features more than 60 life-sized, moving dinosaurs in a 12.5-acre Jurassic Forest outdoor setting.
2012: The water park undergoes a large overhaul and becomes Soak City. Included are a new wave pool, Tidal Wave Bay, and the updated Splash River. Son of Beast is demolished to accommodate a new attraction.
2013: A new sports-themed dining facility, Reds Hall of Fame Grille, opens in Rivertown. A frightening new roller coaster, Banshee, is announced. It will be the longest ride of its kind.
2014: Banshee, the world’s longest inverted roller coaster, screams onto the scene. It resides in the former Son of Beast location. The Racer gives its 100 millionth ride in August. The Beast gives its 50 millionth ride in October.
2015: Planet Snoopy is expanded with Woodstock Gliders, the return of the fan-favorite Flying Scooters ride previously removed in 2004. Snoopy’s Space Buggies, a child-friendly bouncing ride, also begins entertaining park guests.
2016: Park guests drop into Tropical Plunge, a colorful complex in Soak City with six twisted waterslide experiences. The Park announces a new ride, teasing the attraction with the hashtag #WhatsInTheShed.
2017: An out-and-back wooden roller, Mystic Timbers, is unveiled. The ride includes a midcourse tunnel, extensive theming, and a first-of-its-kind special effects finale. Winterfest returns to much fanfare, after a 12-year hiatus.
2018: A new restaurant, Coney Bar-B-Que, opens, featuring an extensive offering of delicious menu items. The return of the classic antique cars’ attraction, originally closed in 2004, was announced for the 2019 season in August. Firehawk is retired.
2019: A classic is returned with Kings Mills Antique Autos, enabling park visitors to drive an antique vehicle around lush gardens. Miami River Brewhouse replaces the Reds Hall of Fame Grille and begins serving up craft beers and food. The Vortex is retired.
2020: Orion, a giga roller coaster with a 300-foot drop, towers over Kings Island. It’s the park’s tallest, fastest, and longest steel roller coaster to date. The surrounding area is rethemed as Area 72 in conjunction with the new roller coaster. A new restaurant, Meteor Canteen, opens.
2021: Kings Island Camp Cedar opens just north of the park. The luxury outdoor resort makes it easy to stay and play nearby. The Racer is refurbished with more than 500 feet of new, specialty-engineered track on both the north and south sides. Shake, Rattle & Roll gives its 25 millionth ride in August.
2022: Kings Island celebrates its golden anniversary with a line-up of new shows and experiences. The Beast continues thrilling riders with more than 2,000 feet of track work, including modifications in select areas of the ride. The Racer is repainted to its original red, white and blue color scheme. The town section of the K.I. & Miami Valley Railroad is refurbished.
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