"Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth, put out my hand, and touched the face of God." - John Gillespie Magee, Jr
No other words can better describe the feeling one gets while taking a joyride on a Ferris wheel. Children and adults alike experience a surge of excitement and heightened nervousness on the prospect of taking a Ferris wheel ride. Experience shows that people have actually been happy to shell out a few dollars to experience these dual feelings. Different versions of Ferris wheel have been prominent attractions at various social fairs and carnivals held all around the world in the past one and a quarter century. This engineering wonder has a history that equals the exciting joyride it offers.
Invention of Ferris Wheel
The year was 1891. The Americans were in search of a new architectural design to commemorate the 4th centenary anniversary of Columbus setting foot on American soil. The Americans were looking out for a design to surpass the grandeur of French Eiffel tower. However, none of the proposed designs met the project committee's expectations. Then at a certain engineers' banquet, a bright engineer named George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr, hailing from Pennsylvania was struck with a sudden inspirational design of a giant wheel.
Upon approval of Ferris's design, work began on construction of the Ferris wheel, which is a namesake of its original designer. Soon the project was completed and the Ferris wheel was inaugurated for public on June 21st, 1893 at Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, USA.
The massive engineering wonder was constructed by G W G Ferris & Co from Pittsburgh. It consisted of two 140 ft tall steel towers to hold the wheel firmly in place. These towers were supported by a massive 45 ft long steel axle. The main wheel itself was approximately 830 ft in circumference and radius of each wheel spoke was approximately 125 ft. The wheel required 2000 horsepower engines to turn it around. The height of this wheel was exactly 264 ft. The wheel consisted of 36 passenger seating boxes equipped to seat 60 passengers each. This added up to exactly 2160 passenger capacity. With full seating capacity, the wheel required almost 20 minutes to complete two full rotations. With a ticket price of 50 cents per ride, the wheel made a turnover of $726800 during the Columbian Exposition.
This historic invention was dismantled and re-erected twice after its original erection. Consequently, it was destroyed using a dynamite on May 11th, 1906. So popular was the original Ferris wheel, that the name Ferris wheel is now generically connected to all such structures.
Predecessors of Ferris Wheel
Though the Columbian Exposition wheel is known as the first Ferris wheel of the world, there are some written and pictorial records that say otherwise. The original wheel is said to have existed in Bulgaria during late 17th century. This wooden wheel was also known as the Pleasure wheel. Existence of similar wheels has been recorded in Persia, Constantinople, India, Romania, Siberia and so on during the 17th century.
Subsequent Famous Ferris Wheels Around the World
Here is a table giving details of some of the most famous Ferris wheels around the world along with their heights.
|Year of Construction||Name||Location||Height|
|1895||The Great Wheel||UK||308 ft|
|1897||Wiener Riesenrad||Austria||212 ft|
|1900||Grande Roue de Paris||France||328 ft|
|1989||Cosmo Clock 21||Japan||353 ft|
|1997||Tempozan Ferris Wheel||Japan||369 ft|
|2000||London Eye||London, UK||443 ft|
|2006||Star of Nanchang||China||527 ft|
|2008||Singapore Flyer||Singapore||541 ft|
It is worth noting that, the Singapore Flyer currently holds the record of being the highest Ferris wheel in the whole world.
Ferris wheels have been popular attractions at many of the famous festivals held around the world for the past two centuries. They were considered number one attractions at some of the world famous amusement and theme parks till the advent of a close competitors called Roller coasters. However, some mega Ferris wheels like London Eye and Singapore Flyer will continue to be a major tourist attraction.