In 1974 the Marriott Corporation began construction of a new amusement park just north of Chicago Illinois and on Memorial Day, May 29, 1976 Marriott's Great America opened it's gates to the public. The park was an immediate success due in part to its Americana themes and grand opening during the American Bicentennial.
Originally the park included three roller coasters: Willard's Whizzer, now known as Whizzer, the Turn of the Century, now re-themed and renamed Demon, and the Gulf Coaster(a Bradley & Kaye Little Dipper.)
On June 17th 1980 the park broke ground for a massive new wooden roller coaster with construction workers beginning to pour the first of the rides 2000 footers. The footers measured, on average, 18 inches in diameter and 4.5 feet deep.
Eventually this monstrous coaster would come to be known as The American Eagle. At the time it featured the world's highest and longest vertical drop. The American Eagle also had the longest total length of track in the world.
Ron Johnson, then Vice President and General Manager hit the nail on the head when he stated, "The American Eagle is a landmark attraction for the Mid-west." The Eagle was designed by Figley-Wright Contractors, Inc for Intamin Inc.
The American Eagle was constructed using 1,060,000 board feet of Douglas Fir and covers an area of more than 237,500 square feet. 60,720 bolts, 30,600 lbs of nails and 9,000 gallons of white paint were used and the ride took over 57,000 man hours to build.
The Eagle has over 550 bents, measuring from 127 feet at the peak of the lift hill to 18 inches at the bottom of the same hill. There are also over 200 batter braces. This twin-track racing roller coaster stands at 127 feet tall and reaches speeds of 66 mph. The bottom of the first drop was built 20 feet below ground level, bringing the height of the first drop to just over 147 feet.
Scheduled to open May 1981, when Great America kicked off it's sixth season, the American Eagle was considered to be a sure fire hit! A special thanks to Meredith at Six Flags Great America for providing these wonderful construction photos. Stay tuned for the rest of our story in next weeks Blast.