Herbert Sellner Makes Nausea Fun Again
Minnesota is known for many things, including its long and cold winters. When warm weather finally arrives, the people are ready to get the most out of their short but beautiful summers. In the early 1920s, when entertainment options were much more limited, people were ready to get out of their homes and have some fun in the great outdoors. Peaceful activities such as hiking, fishing in the state’s bountiful lakes and rivers, and enjoying festivals and carnivals were what the average Minnesotan looked forward to doing; that is until Herbert Sellner came along.
Sellner was a resident of Faribault, MN, who made a living designing things. Originally it was furniture, then it was children’s toys. What really made Sellner famous, though, was an invention he created in 1923: the Water-Toboggan Slide. Sellner’s creation was the first water slide ever made. He built a large wooden slide that went out over the water. Children (or adults) would climb to the top with a sled and slide down. When they hit the water, the sleds didn’t sink. Instead, they went shooting out over the water up to 100 feet. From there, the water slide industry took off, as versions of Sellner’s invention branched out throughout the nation’s beaches and swimming pools, eventually becoming used in both indoor and outdoor water parks. Some towns, like Wisconsin Dells, have based much of their existence on the allure of these water slides.
Sellner wasn’t done bringing entertainment to the masses, though. Sellner’s next big invention was the Tilt-A-Whirl, which was trademarked on Dec. 14, 1926 (patent #1745719). According to legend, Sellner used to entertain his young son by putting him on a stool on the family’s kitchen table. Sellner would then rock the table back and forth, causing his child to be thrust about in unpredictable directions. This provided the inspiration for Sellner. What if he created a ride that spun riders around in random directions, unlike other, more predictable rides that existed at the time, like the Ferris wheel? The randomness of the ride was what made it so entertaining (or, for some, nauseating), and it also kept people coming back, as every ride would be different from the last. And so the inspiration for what would become known as the Tilt-A-Whirl was born.
Sellner began production on his idea, and the Tilt-A-Whirl debuted at the 1927 Minnesota State Fair. The new ride was an immediate success, and Sellner set up a company, Sellner Manufacturing, to produce more of them. Since then, the ride has become a staple at carnivals and amusement parks. With his inventions of both the water slide and Tilt-A-Whirl, Herbert Sellner helped permanently change the face of American entertainment.
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