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1891 – George Ferris Draws The First Ferris Wheel Design On A Napkin

February 14th is the annual observance of National Ferris Wheel Day.  This unofficial national holiday is held on this day to honor the birth of the inventor of the Ferris Wheel, George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.

  • Preparations for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition began in earnest in 1891. Director of works for the fair, Daniel H. Burnham, laid out the challenge: create a centerpiece to the show that will rival the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
  • The Ferris Wheel was Invented in 1893 for the Chicago World’s Fair. The inventor George W. Ferris a bridge builder, came up with the concept of the Ferris Wheel and sketched it on a cocktail napkin at an Engineer’s Banquet in 1891.
  • The first Ferris Wheel was 264 feet high.
  • The original Ferris wheel could carry 60 passengers in each of the 36 cars, for a total capacity of 2160 passengers per rotation.
  • You could ride the first Ferris Wheel for only 50 cents. In 1893, fifty cents was the equivalent of $10.52 today. A day’s pay in 1893 was about $1 per day, or $5 per week. To take your family of 5 for a ride on the first Ferris Wheel, it would have cost you half of your weekly salary! The equivalent of that today would be $250.00 to ride on a Ferris Wheel.
  • Despite the wheel’s success, Ferris struggled after the fair.  Lawsuits over who owed who bankrupt him.  His wife left him.  Then in 1896, a few short years after the fair, he died at the age of 37 of typhoid fever.
  • The original wheel suffered a similar fate.  In 1906, it was destroyed with dynamite for scrap metal.  The idea has lived on, and wheels continue to be enjoyed around the world.
  • High Roller, Las Vegas: The tallest: At 550 feet, it’s currently the world’s tallest ferris wheel. It carries about 1,120 people in its 28 futuristic looking observation pods.
  • London Eye, London:  The largest: This is the current record-holder for largest wheel in Europe, and carries about 800 people in its 32 cars. It’s 442 feet tall.
  • The Big O — Tokyo, Japan: Double-duty: What’s cool about this wheel is that it doesn’t have a center, just a big opening in the middle… which has a roller coaster flying through it, which you can see from one of the 40 cars! Wow!
  • Cosmo Clock 21 — Yokohama, Japan. Tick-tock: What makes this big wheel cool is the large clock in the center, because time flies when you’re having fun on a ferris wheel!
  • Riesenrad — Vienna, Austria: The oldest: Built in 1897, the historic Riesenrad is the world’s oldest working ferris wheel. There are only 15 cars so you might have to wait a bit. The cars even have tables in them — you can have a private lunch or dinner while you watch the city go by.
  • Pacific Wheel — Santa Monica, California: Sun power: This is the only solar-powered ferris wheel in the world! It also has over 160,000 energy-efficient LED lights to brighten it up at night. Eco-riffic!
  • Wonder Wheel — Coney Island, New York: It’s a swing too: This wheel, which opened in 1920, is super-fun (and super-thrilling!) because 16 of the cars swing along the center rails.
  • Tianjin Eye — Tianjin, China: Wave to the cars: This is the only ferris wheel in the world that is built on a bridge over a river — drivers on the bridge can actually wave at people on the ride as they go by!


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