The Ferris Wheel: Engineering Marvel Turned Amusement Park Attraction

Ferris Wheel
Modern-day Ferris Wheel

Fun Facts About the Ferris Wheel

  • The Ferris Wheel debuted on June 21, 1893 for the Chicago World’s Fair and was invented by George Washington Gale Ferris, a bridge builder.

    George W.G. Ferris

    George W.G. Ferris

  • In 1890, Congress decided to celebrate the discovery of America by Columbus by hosting the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The director of the corporation in charge of the event was given the task of coming up with something to be the icon of the event, as the Eiffel Tower was to the 1889 Paris Exposition.
  • The director presented the problem at an Engineer’s Banquet in 1891, and Ferris presented the solution sketched on a cocktail napkin – a giant revolving wheel that people could ride in.
  • A structure of this size and shape had not yet been built, which meant that the science behind it had never been tested. In fact, the Saturday Afternoon Club, a group of engineers and architects of the time, called Ferris a fool and proclaimed that he would never be able to build the giant wheel. He obtained permission in spite of this and began building.
  • The first Ferris Wheel was 264 feet high. The wheel spun on an 89,320-pound axle, which was forged in Pittsburgh. The 45 ½-foot axel carried two 16-foot cast-iron spiders that turned the machine.
  • It was turned with a 1000 hp reversible engine using ten-inch steam pipes. A second engine stood in reserve in case the first broke. An air brake stopped the contraption when needed.
  • The original Ferris WheelOnce the device had performed one complete revolution on June 9, 1893, the cars were hung.

    Ferris' wheel at the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1892

    The original Ferris Wheel

  • The original Ferris wheel could carry 60 passengers in each of the 36 cars, for a total capacity of 2160 passengers per rotation.
  • The wheel would take 20 minutes to make one complete revolution.
  • You could ride the first Ferris Wheel for only 50 cents. In 1893, fifty cents was the equivalent of $10.52 today. A day’s pay in 1893 was about $1 per day, or $5 per week. To take your family of 5 for a ride on the first Ferris Wheel, it would have cost you half of your weekly salary!
  • The first Ferris Wheel cost $380,000 in 1893. By today’s value that would be the equivalent of $8,223,266.
  • Between its opening and the end of the expo on November 6 th , the wheel earned $726,805 dollars, which turned into a profit of $395,000 for the company that commissioned it.

    The Star of Nanchang - the world's tallest wheel

    The Star of Nanchang

  • After the Fair, the wheel was moved to a new site in Chicago. However, it did not bring in the patrons they expected, and the company quickly went bankrupt. The wheel was sold at auction and transported piece by piece to St. Louis for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition . Here it brought in less money, and on May 11, 1906, it was blown up.
  • The largest Wheel in the World today is the Star of Nanchang, which cost 7.1 million dollars to build in 2006. It stands 541 Feet high, twice the height of the original Ferris Wheel. Though this Wheel is not a “Ferris” Wheel, it would certainly rival the first one ever made.
  • The Ferris Wheel’s legacy lives today in modern-day wheels. Today’s wheels are not powered by steam, but the structure and turning mechanism are quite similar to the first one.
Special thanks to  www.shootingstar.ca and www.allstays.com
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Filed under Entertainment, Historical Events & Figures, Science, Travel

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