The Scientific American Supplement of June 25, 1881, presents this illustration of a diversion that the family of Louis XIV purportedly used at the chateau of Marly-le-Roi. Called the Jeu de la Roulette, it’s essentially a miniature railway in which the train is pushed along by servants:
According to Alex. Guillaumot the apparatus consisted of a sort of railway on which the car was moved by manual labor. In the car, which was decorated with the royal colors, are seen seated the ladies and children of the king’s household, while the king himself stands in the rear and seems to be directing operations. The remarkable peculiarity to which we would direct the attention of the reader is that this document shows that the car ran on rails very nearly like those used on the railways of the present time, and that a turn-table served for changing the direction to a right angle in order to place the car under the shelter of a small building.
Scientific American says that the engraving’s authenticity is certain — La Nature took it from the archives at Paris among documents dated 1714. In Unusual Railways (1958), John Robert Day and Brian Geoffrey Wilson are rather more reserved, noting that all the evidence for the railway lies in this single print. “There is no evidence that the date or the print are authentic, but we like to think that they are.”
If it did exist, they write, “This almost certainly was the first pleasure railway ever built.”