UA-140396414-1Amusement Park – Theme Park Architect

Amusement Park

What is an Amusement Park?

Amusement parks offer a variety of carnival or county fair types rides and attractions. In short form; amusement parks are not theme parks. While amusement parks may have notions of underlying themes or stories that drive their design, and can be located in beautiful settings, they typically do not explore those concepts in great detail as do theme parks. Amusement parks have been around much longer than theme parks with their origins starting back in 12th Century Europe.

  • Amusement Parks can vary in size and while offering a variety of lands or areas, county fair-like food and beverage offerings, merchandise stores, etc.
  • Amusement Parks typically have a variety of often unrelated rides and attractions each with their own concept.
  • Amusement Parks are often season in their operating hours and use off the shelf ride and attraction technology.
  • Amusement Parks usually offer a variety of attractions and shows that target select age brackets and demographics of their Guests but many focusing on major thrill rides and carnival or county fair type experiences.

Understanding Amusement Parks

Amusement parks evolved out of European pleasure gardens, picnic areas, and traveling carnivals and fairs dating back as early as the 12thCentury Middle Ages in Europe. The Industrial Revolution, the introduction of machinery, and the advent of electricity would forever change amusement parks and transform them into the modern iteration as we know them today.

History tells us the oldest amusement park is ‘Bakken’ in Denmark, which dates back to the 16thCentury. The more ‘modern’ amusement parks are the combinations of stationary fairs, pleasure gardens, and world’s fairs popular in 19thCentury Europe. These were places for large audiences to see attractions that often are associated with traveling circuses, such as menageries, acrobatics, freak shows, etc.

The introduction of new Victorian era technologies and reduced working hours for the working class, allowed for fixed or stationary mechanical rides, such as roller coasters and carousels, to become more prevalent and available in amusement parks. In the United States, the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition was the catalyst for the modern amusement park in North America. It was at the Columbian Exposition that the birth of the ‘midway’ was born which showcased shooting arcades and games of chance.

Theme parks, on the other hand, are a relatively new iteration of the amusement park concept. Theme parks, in the United States, have their origins dating back to the 1940’s, with Santa Claus Land, which opened in 1946, being attributed by most as America’s first theme park. Other, regional family owned theme parks would begin to pop up in the U.S. in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Some with lasting success to the modern day, others succumbing to hard times during economic downturns. 

Recommended Reading about the history of amusement parks!

As the 20thCentury came around, and as the world began to heal itself from the first World War, amusement parks evolved with larger attractions, bigger roller coasters, and larger thrills. As the wide range use of electricity began to illuminate cities and extend the operating hours of amusement parks into the evening hours; transforming the feel of these day parks into something even more magical at night.

The Golden Age of amusement parks is often attributed to the 1920’s. As the Great Depression in the 1930’s and World War II in the 1940’s affected the sentiment of the population and ignited a migration of the U.S. population from the city centers to the suburbs, urban amusement parks began to see a decline in attendance.

By the 1950’s and 1960’s many of the urban, Golden Age amusement parks fell into disarray or became victims of mass fires and low attendance.

Today, amusement parks and theme parks are opening up and continue to operate around the world. With iconic brands such as Six Flags, Sea World, Busch Gardens, Universal Studios, Warner Brothers and Ferrari World; the days of the old pleasure gardens with side show freaks dazzling audiences are seemingly a thing of the past. Today’s amusement parks and theme parks are multibillion-dollar immersive environments of entertainment that utilize and often create some of the most advanced technology for modern guest experiences.

Related Terms

<< Return to the Theme Park Glossary

About the Author J. Daniel Jenkins, AIA, NCARB is a licensed Architect, Theme Park Design Consultant, and former Senior Project Design Manager at Walt Disney Imagineering with over twenty years of subject matter expertise and design team leadership experience. Jenkins is the creator of themeparkarchitect.com who's goal is to teach individuals about theme park architecture and design, how to become theme park architects and designers, and discuss themed entertainment industry related topics. For nearly a decade, Mr. Jenkins has worked in the themed entertainment industry on new themed entertainment attractions, theme park lands, and new theme parks. Upon leaving Walt Disney Imagineering, Jenkins started his own Design Management Consulting company where he has consulted with and provided subject matter expertise and project leadership for new, confidential projects for several themed entertainment companies. Mr. Jenkins holds a five-year Master of Architecture degree from the Savannah College of Art and Design and a Virtual Design and Construction Certificate from Stanford University.
Scroll to Top