The directors of the Columbian Worlds fair issued a challenge to
American engineers to conceive and develop a
monument which would surpass the greatest structure of the Paris
International Exposition of 1889 -- the Eiffel Tower.
They wanted something "original, daring and unique".
George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr (1859-1896) an American Illinois
bridge engineer responded with a proposed wheel that would rotate
allowing visitors to view the entire exhibition.
The directors rejected his proposal fearing that it would not be safe
and would be impossible to build.
A few weeks later, Ferris presented several endorsements from
established engineers and the directors agreed to the proposal.
This wheel was much larger than any modern day ferris wheel you
might have ridden.
The proposed wheel had 36 cars which each had 40 revolving chairs and
could also accomodate another 20 standing passengers
for a total capacity of 2,160 people.
During a typical day, the Ferris Wheel in the Midway section of the
fair carried about 38,000 passengers on a 20 minute
ride above the fair at fifty cents each (about $10 in today's money).
More than 2,500,000 people rode this first ever amusement ferris wheel
until it was demolished in 1906.
The profits from the Ferris wheel enabled the fair to show a profit
instead of a huge loss.
After the fair closed, Ferris claimed that the exhibition management
had fraudulently stolen money from the investors and a lawsuit was
Ferris died an impoverished man in 1896, but the imaginative wheel he
created is still in use today.
This is a silver plated spoon depicting the first ever Ferris wheel.
Sterling versions of this spoon are also available
Return to Columbian worlds fair index
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