Simulation experiences captivate the imagination of today's entertainment-seeking public. Once located exclusively at a few venues, these simulations are increasingly prevalent in a variety of locales including malls and casinos. While today's public may view these entertainments as novel, these forms of simulation have rich historical antecedents that can be traced to entertainment and technological innovations of the nineteenth century. Focusing on American examples from the time period of 1820 to the present, this paper examines a wide variety of immersive entertainments that attempted to simulate an experience, environment, or event so realistically that viewers accepted the imitation as authentic and realistic. This paper examines cycloramas, panoramas, historic recreations, and a selection of mechanical rides from amusement parks and world's fair midways that provided group experiences. An examination of the social functions of these precursors strengthens our understanding of the significance of contemporary simulation entertainments in the United States.
Primary research for this paper was supported by grants from Rhode Island College and Rhode Island School of Design.