In the summer of 1870, a Sandusky, Ohio, excursion boat named Young Reindeer began regular service transporting visitors to the Cedar Point peninsula to swim, picnic, play games, dance and enjoy musical performances. It was the birth of Cedar Point.
For the next 30 years, Cedar Point grew, albeit slowly. The addition of the Grand Pavilion in 1888, along with a few rides, were popular attractions, but its focus remained local. Enter George Boeckling, an Indiana businessman who acquired the property in 1899. Boeckling was a visionary and believed Cedar Point’s potential was unlimited. He built the Hotel Breakers in 1905, the Coliseum in 1907, introduced a midway with rides and attractions, and marketed the park across the Midwest. Cedar Point entered its first golden age.
Boeckling died in 1931, just as the Great Depression was kicking into high gear. For the next 20 years, Cedar Point was in the doldrums. In the early 1950s, it started to rebound, and in 1956 it was acquired by George Roose, a Toledo bond dealer, and Emile Legros, a Cleveland banker. These two men led a comeback for Cedar Point that is legendary in the amusement park industry. Roose and Legros added new rides and attractions; introduced a Disney-style operating philosophy that focused on cleanliness, employee courtesy and safety; and established modern business practices.
Cedar Point entered a second golden age in the 1970s. Over the past four decades, Cedar Point has established itself as “America’s Roller Coast,” adding one world-class coaster after another. Starting in the 1990s, under the leadership of CEO Dick Kinzel, Cedar Point also returned to its roots as a resort with the addition of new hotels and a water park.
Kinzel also started acquiring other amusement parks. Today, Cedar Point has morphed into Cedar Fair Entertainment Co. with more than $1 billion in sales. It operates 11 parks and other attractions across the U.S. and Canada.Cedar Point is a unique brand. The attachment folks have for Cedar Point can only be compared to what fans feel for specific sports teams. And it’s multigenerational. You first come to the park as a child, then as a teenager, then as a parent, then as a grandparent. I have watched from the platform as fathers take their sons and daughters on their first ride on Gemini, just as their fathers or mothers took them 30 or 40 years before.
Cedar Point is an Ohio treasure and this year it will celebrate its 150th anniversary. It’s been a wild ride and the station is nowhere in sight.
H. John Hildebrandt worked 40 years for Cedar Point, rising to vice president of marketing and then to general manager of the park. He retired in 2014 after 10 years as GM. He is a past president of the Ohio Travel Association and is currently president of the Erie County Historical Society. He and his wife, Marie, are co-authors of “Lake Erie’s Shores and Islands,” a history of tourism in the Lake Erie west region. Hildebrandt is the author of “Always Cedar Point,” a memoir of his 40 years walking the midway at Cedar Point. Both books are available through Amazon or your local bookseller.
For more information, visit www.alwayscedarpoint.com.