The Ferris Wheel made its debut at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893. It was, of course, a big hit with fair goers, who enjoyed their first taste of this amazing ride that would become a carnival staple ever after. I knew these basic facts, but didn't really pay attention to the actual wheel, and I'm betting a lot of other people didn't, either. Now, you'd be perfectly normal in thinking that the first-ever Ferris Wheel would be a rather small, and perhaps not terribly safe, contraption. That's certainly what I assumed, somewhere in the back of my mind.
Turns out that the very first Ferris Wheel in the world was a highly technologically advanced and sophisticated machine, and it was ENORMOUS. Seriously, I cannot stress enough the sheer size of this thing. Take a look at these images. It towers over everything else in the fair, dominates the skyline for miles around, and look at the size of the individual cars! Each one is about the size of a mobile trailer home, and people can walk around quite comfortably inside them. Who the hell built this thing, and how did they do it? I'd love to see the factory that cranked out parts for this ride. Alas, no images or information exists of the construction of this monstrously huge carnival ride, which is very strange, but not at all surprising at this point. The more I look at these images, the more I am convinced that the actual machinery was found in situ, but it served a much different purpose than mere human entertainment, and was simply modified to make a happy-fun ride so that nobody would ask questions about where the thing came from.
The original Ferris WheelThe Chicago Wheel, was designed and constructed by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. With a height of 80.4 metres (264 ft) it was the tallest attraction at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois, where it opened to the public on June 21, 1893. It was intended to rival the 324-metre (1,063 ft) Eiffel Tower, the centerpiece of the 1889 Paris Exposition.
Ferris was a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, bridge-builder. He began his career in the railroad industry and then pursued an interest in bridge building. Ferris understood the growing need for structural steel and founded G.W.G. Ferris & Co. in Pittsburgh, a firm that tested and inspected metals for railroads and bridge builders.
The wheel rotated on a 71-ton, 45.5-foot axle comprising what was at that time the world's largest hollow forging, manufactured in Pittsburgh by the Bethlehem Iron Company and weighing 89,320 pounds, together with two 16-foot-diameter (4.9 m) cast-iron spiders weighing 53,031 pounds.
There were 36 cars, each fitted with 40 revolving chairs and able to accommodate up to 60 people, giving a total capacity of 2,160. The wheel carried some 38,000 passengers daily and took 20 minutes to complete two revolutions, the first involving six stops to allow passengers to exit and enter and the second a nine-minute non-stop rotation, for which the ticket holder paid 50 cents.
The Exposition ended in October 1893, and the wheel closed in April 1894 and was dismantled and stored until the following year. It was then rebuilt on Chicago's North Side, near Lincoln Park, next to an exclusive neighborhood. This prompted William D. Boyce, then a local resident, to file a Circuit Court action against the owners of the wheel to have it removed, but without success. It operated there from October 1895 until 1903, when it was again dismantled, then transported by rail to St. Louis for the 1904 World's Fair and finally destroyed by controlled demolition using dynamite on May 11, 1906.
Ferris Wheel - Wikipedia
Ferris Wheel in the 1893 Chicago World's Fair
The Life and Explosive Death of the World's First Ferris Wheel