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Amazing! Colossal! Stupendous!

Amazing! Colossal! Stupendous!

France had hosted the 1889 Paris Exposition, and it had been an enormous success, the largest fair ever of its kind. The Eiffel Tower had been built for the Paris Exposition and had quickly become a world-famous engineering wonder. A few years later, America was planning a World’s Fair of its own to be held in Chicago. American prestige was on the line. Would an American fair be able to outdo the Paris Exposition? Would Chicago, the second-largest city in the country, be able to put on as good as fair as New York, if New York had been chosen to host the fair?

The planners of the Chicago World’s Fair wanted a structure built that would rival the Eiffel Tower and become the centerpiece of the fair, as the Eiffel Tower had been of the Paris fair. After considering many proposals, they chose the design of a young bridge-builder from Pittsburgh named George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.

The “Ferris Wheel,” as it came to be called, was, at 264 feet, the largest structure of the sprawling Chicago World’s Fair. It quickly became enormously popular and well-known. As the planners had hoped, it became the symbol for the fair, recognized all over the world.

The wheel rotated on a 71-ton, 45.5 foot axle that weighed 89,320 pounds and was at the time the largest hollow steel forging that had ever been done. There were 36 cars, each able to accommodate 60 people—up to 2160 passengers at one time. The ride on the “Ferris Wheel” cost fifty cents and made two revolutions in twenty minutes.

After the Chicago fair ended, the “Ferris Wheel” was dismantled and stored for a time. It was reassembled on Chicago’s North Side, near Lincoln Park, where it operated from 1895 to 1903. After that, it was dismantled once again and used in the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. After it was no longer needed, the “Ferris Wheel” that had brought so much notoriety to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair was destroyed by controlled demolition in 1906.

Copyright © 2012 by Allen Kopp

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