A Brief History
On November 22, 1896, George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., the inventor of the Ferris Wheel, died in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania of Typhoid Fever. Ferris was only 37 years old.
Ferris had been born in 1859 in a town called Galesburg, Illinois, a town founded by George Washington Gale. The Ferris family cleverly named their newborn son after the town’s founder. The Ferris clan moved to Nevada, and Ferris attended the California Military Academy (Oakland) where he graduated in 1876. Ferris was no slouch in the academic department, and graduated from the prestigious Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Connecticut) in 1881 with a degree in Civil Engineering.
When Ferris heard about the Chicago, Illinois World’s Columbian Exposition scheduled for 1893, he went to Chicago to try his hand at the challenge of creating a monument that would surpass the Eiffel Tower of Paris. Ferris set about to create his namesake wheel, something he felt would “Out-Eiffel Eiffel.” Expo directors feared for the safety of people that would ride the giant wheel, but Ferris managed to push those fears aside and build his creation. Not your run of the mill carnival ride, this mighty wheel needed investors to cough up $400,000 to have it built (a lot of money in those days!). This giant wheel was 264 feet tall (taller than any other exhibit) and had 36 cars, each with 40 revolving chairs that could hold up to 60 people. Total capacity of the wheel at one time was 2160 passengers! About 38,000 people a day rode the Ferris Wheel, each ride lasting 20 minutes. The non-stop part of the ride was 9 minutes, with the other 11 minutes taken by loading and unloading passengers.
The wheel stood past the end of the Exposition, and was demolished in 1906 after about 2.5 million people had ridden on it. A ticket to ride the mechanical marvel cost 50 cents. Show organizers (allegedly) cheated Ferris out of his share of the profits, and he spent the next couple years in court trying to get his money. The immense ride was dismantled and moved to Lincoln Par, Chicago after the Exposition, and then taken apart and rebuilt for the 1904 St. Louis (Missouri) World’s Fair. It was there that it was dismantled for the last time in 1906.
Ferris wheels have become a staple amusement park and carnival ride across the world, and even indoor examples exist. Back in the 1960’s at Chippewa Lake Park, Ohio, I had the experience of riding on “The World’s Fastest Ferris Wheel.” Of course, it broke down and my sobbing sister and I were trapped high above the park for over an hour before they got it running again. The park closed in 1978, but the skeleton of the Ferris wheel still stands, sans cars.
Do you have a favorite Ferris Wheel? Please tell us about it and where we can ride it!
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