By Jesmar Arévalo
Most people have taken a ride on a Ferris Wheel at least once, but only a few know the incredible story behind this amusement ride. How romantic must it be to take a ride on The Eye of London with your life partner and enjoy the landscape from the highest point of the structure? Countless memorable moments have been experienced on Ferris Wheels around the world. They have become a symbol of greatness, a place to meet.
It will surprise you to discover it all started as a challenge. Back in 1889, The Eiffel Tower was inaugurated to celebrate 100 years of the French Revolution. This iconic piece of art caught the world’s attention, but it also started a debate between engineers and architects worldwide who believed they could do it better.
In this context, Daniel Burnham, well known as an eminent architect from that time, was assigned to a project where he was supposed to turn a boggy space in Chicago into an incredible place. The idea was to build something that could overshadow or even compete with the majesty of the Eiffel Tower of Paris.
Money was not the problem, but what Eiffel did in Paris seemed to be too much to compete with. As time passed by, anyone from the professional team was able to come in with any valuable idea. Then Burnham raised the stakes to motivate his staff. This led George Washington Gale Ferris Jr, a 33 years old engineer to step up with an incredible but not entirely original idea, a Huge Revolving Steel Wheel.
By that time, William Sommers patented and was already building a wooden version of this type of wheel at Asbury Park, Atlantic City, and Coney Island. Ferris' idea was a little bit different because he took that idea and decided to make it bigger. His proposal was considered too fragile, so he decided to go on his own and invest his own money to make it happen.
In 1893, this stubborn engineer stunned everybody with his piece of art at the Chicago World´s Fair. The Ferris Wheel was born. For weeks, people paid 50 cents to get a 20 minute ride and access to the incredible landscapes seen from the top of the wheel at 264 ft from the ground. But once the fair ended, the magic vanished, and Ferris faced bankruptcy. He died at 37, full of debt.
The end of the first Ferris Wheel and his creator´s life is far from being a happily ever after story. But his legacy does prevail. Ferris Wheels are basic attractions we can find in almost any state fair all over the U.S. Today. Important cities such as Berlin, London, and New York decided to see who could build the most amazing wheel in the world, inspired by Ferris’ original idea.
If you’re a Ferris Wheel fan, you could plan traveling the world around meeting one of the most famous wheels such as the Singapore Flyer, the Vegas Highroller, the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel in Chicago, and of course you can’t leave the London Eye behind.
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