LaMarcus A. Thompson is credited as the inventor of the roller coaster. There were previous patents for roller coasters that were never built and French and Russian amusements similar in concept that used gravity to generate high speeds.
In 1872, the first patent for an amusement coaster was submitted, but Thompson's Switchback Railway was the first wooden roller coaster ever built, in 1884. Thompson's invention was a cart on rails called the Switchback Railway, built at Coney Island specifically to amuse the paying public.
Switchback Railway was very likely inspired by the Scenic Railway, a cart track that had been designed for mining a tall mountain in Pennsylvania. Riders on the Scenic Railway were treated to a fast drop that got up to speeds of 65 miles per hour. The track was converted to a tourist attraction after the mine had been tapped out. Use of the track for amusement was itself inspired by the Russian Mountain slides and ramps of St. Petersburg and the rolling benches of France, which traveled along grooved tracks under the force of gravity.