12 of the World's Greatest Roller Coasters

­­Roller Coaster Image Gallery The Kingda Ka is one of the world's tallest and fastest roller coasters. See more pictures of roller coasters.
© Tim Larsen/Associated Press

In the 1880s on Coney Island -- a spit of Brooklyn beachfront -- the first American roller coasters were born … with some serious defects. One of the pioneer coasters, the Flip-Flap Railway, had the unfortunate problem of snapping riders' necks due to the extreme g-forces experienced when accelerating through the coaster's circular loop. This was obviously not ideal, and roller coasters had a ways to go before they became simultaneously safe and scream-inducing.

Thanks to engineering innovations and steel construction, coasters are now harmless and at speeds you can't fathom. Some of today's fastest coasters reach more than 100 miles per hour (160 kilometers per hour) -- much faster than you'd dare drive your car. And their drops feel more like prolonged freefalls -- one of the coasters on our list rockets down an 825-foot (251-meter) hill. Designers have infused creativity into their projects. One coaster blends music into the experience and another enables its passengers to "fly." But how? Let's take a look at today's greatest thrill rides.