“I see nothing in space as promising as the view from a Ferns wheel.”
E.B. White, writer
How do you outdo the Eiffel Tower? This was the problem facing the organizers of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. The solution was presented by George Ferris (1859-1896), who submitted details right down to ticket prices. Ferris was a civil engineer with an interest in railroads and bridge building. His design was for a wheel, 262 feet (80 m) tall, capable of carrying 2,000 people up for a view of the whole fair.
Smaller, wooden "pleasure wheels" had already appeared around the world, but this design was on a much grander scale. However, the fair organizers thought it could not be done and rejected Ferris. Not a man to be easily deterred, he returned after convincing fellow engineers to endorse the design and local investors to cover the $400,000 cost. This time he won approval and the Observation Wheel opened on June 21, 1893. There were thirty-six cars, one of which contained a band that played when the wheel moved, and each containing a conductor to make sure that passengers did not become hysterical and jump out of the windows. Visitors paid fifty cents for a twenty-minute ride and, by the time it was dismantled, the wheel had carried more than one and a half million people. The dismantled pieces were later used to build local bridges.
Since the 1890s a number of Ferris wheels have been built. Smaller wheels are common as rides in theme parks and funfairs, whereas larger wheels act as observation platforms in big cities around the world. Among the largest are the London Eye, the Star of Nanchang, and the Singapore Flyer.