clinkety clank

John Miller (entrepreneur)

John A. Miller (born August John Mueller in 1872, Homewood, Illinois - died June 24, 1941, Houston, Texas) was a roller coaster designer and builder. He held over 100 patents, many of which were for roller coaster safety devices (e.g. the safety chain dog), that remain key components of present-day roller coasters. He designed over 60 coasters in his lifetime.


For a time in his early career, he worked for La Marcus Adna Thompson and then as a consultant to the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. He also worked with noted designers Frederick Ingersoll and Fred and Josiah Pearce.

Miller in 1910 designed a device that prevented cars from rolling backward down the lift hill in the event the pull chain would break. It attached to the track and clicked onto the rungs of the chain. Known as the safety chain dog, or safety ratchet, it evolved into the device on the underside of cars that makes that distinctive clinkety-clank sound of wooden coasters.

Miller's most important contribution to coaster technology, though, was the underfriction wheel. In 1919, he patented the "Miller Under Friction Wheel," also called the "upstop wheel," which consisted of a wheel that ran under the track to keep the coaster cars from flying off. This allowed the designers to use very steep drops, sharp horizontal and vertical curves and high speeds. These are still found on nearly every roller coaster in operation.

Besides patenting ingenious inventions for coasters--including several types of brakes and car bar locks--Miller built his share of unusual "scream machines." In 1920 Miller went into business with Harry Baker as "Miller & Baker, Inc." and over the next three years, they built popular coasters all over North America. Characteristics of their roller coasters are camelback hills (multiple straight or slightly angled drops that went all the way to the ground) and large, flat turns.

After 1923, Miller continued to design and build coasters for his own company, "The John Miller Company." The Dip-Lo-Docus (c. 1923), billed as "The Jazz Ride," featured revolving three-seater cars, whereas the Flying Turns (1929) consisted of cars with swiveling rubber wheels tearing through a half-cylindrical chute like a toboggan. The legendary Cyclone (1928-1958) at Puritas Springs near Cleveland, Ohio was honored with a place on the Smithsonian Institution's list of Great Lost Roller Coasters. It was hidden so much by foliage that only the boarding platform was visible to riders before they began to race through the ravine. This 1928 ride was considered one of the golden-age classics of the period.

Although many of his most famous coasters were built during the 1920s, Miller never stopped building coasters. He continued to travel to supervise site installations and consult on roller coaster design until his death. He died on June 24, 1941, while working on a coaster project in Houston, Texas.

John Miller-designed Coasters


Name Location Operational
Greyhound Lakewood Fairgrounds, Atlanta, Georgia 1915-1974
Coaster Riverview Park, Des Moines, Iowa 1920-1978
Dip-Lo-Docus Riverview Park, Des Moines, Iowa ca. 1923-?
Cyclone Puritas Springs, Cleveland, Ohio 1928-1958
Greyhound Celeron Park, Jamestown, NY 1924-1959
Flying Turns Euclid Beach Park, Cleveland, OH 1929-1969 - Screeching Eagle Americana Park/
LeSourdsville Lake Amusement Park,
Middletown, OH
Ravine Flyer Waldameer Park 1922-1938 - Thunderbolt Revere Beach 1921-1930
Thunderbolt Coney Island 1925-1982 (torn down 2000)


Name Location Built
Racer Kennywood 1927
Jack Rabbit Kennywood 1921
Thunderbolt Kennywood 1924
Big Dipper Blackpool Pleasure Beach 1923
Big Dipper Geauga Lake's Wildwater Kingdom 1926 (Currently SBNO)
Coaster Thrill Ride Western Washington State Fair 1935
Jack Rabbit Seabreeze 1920
Roller Coaster Lagoon Amusement Park 1921
Zippin Pippin Libertyland 1923


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