The Kid Should See This

The history of the Ferris wheel

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The Ferris wheel, an iconic symbol of amusement and spectacle, has captivated the imaginations of people worldwide for over a century, and today there are Ferris wheels of all sizes in cities, fairs, and amusement parks around the globe.

But the history of the Ferris wheel is not as well known. Who invented the β€œChicago Wheel” and what inspired them? This CBS Sunday Morning video tells the tale.

a smaller Ferris wheel
As its nickname suggests, the very first Ferris wheel was built in Chicago, Illinois for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. It was George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., a visionary structural engineer, who presented the audacious concept of a colossal metal wheel to architect and Exposition director Daniel Burnham, a structure designed to rival the renowned Eiffel Tower.

The Chicago Wheel
Ferris was reportedly inspired by watching a water wheel. But despite the original scale and materials of his structure, he was not the first to reinvent the wheel. From Smithsonian Magazine:

“…a carpenter named William Somers was building 50-foot wooden wheels at Asbury Park, Atlantic City and Coney Island; a roundabout, he called it, and he’d even patented his design. But Ferris had not only been challenged to think big; the huge attendance expected at the fair inspired him to bet big. He spent $25,000 of his own money on safety studies, hired more engineers, recruited investors. On December 16, 1892, his wheel was chosen to answer Eiffel. It measured 250 feet in diameter, and carried 36 cars, each capable of holding 60 people.”

the Chicago Ferris Wheel
Chicago’s Ferris wheel offered fairgoers an unprecedented 10 to 20-minute ride, and over the course of the fair, more than 1.4 million people embraced the chance to see the awe-inspiring views of Lake Michigan and Chicago from 80 meters (264 feet) in the sky.

And though it was sold to St. Louis, Missouri for the 1904 World’s Fair and destroyed for scrap metal in 1906, over 120 large Ferris wheels continue to wow riders, including enormous observation wheels in Dubai, Las Vegas, London, Singapore, across China, and more.

The Dubai Eye
Burham, by the way, went on to design New York City’s Flatiron Building and the telescope dome for Mount Wilson Observatory above Pasadena, California.

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