Harrison Farm

for now, the only thing we're growing on this farm is kids - not the goat variety

The First Ferris Wheel

The original Ferris wheel

The kids and I recently read The Great Wheel by Robert Lawson about the building of the first Ferris wheel. The Ferris wheels I have seen and ridden are tiny in comparison to the first one, built to a whopping 264 feet (or 25 stories) in 1893 by Pittsburgh bridge-builder, George Ferris. The wheel was meant to rival the Eiffel Tower and was showcased at the World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago.

To give you an idea of how grandiose it was, each “car” on a typical Ferris wheel can hold 2 people. The cars on the Great Wheel, however, were like luxury train cars, the size of a small home (at that time) with seating capacity of 40 and standing room for 20 more. With 36 cars, the wheel could carry 2160 people at one time.

The Great Wheel, as you can imagine, was THE thing to see and do at the fair in 1893. But after the fair, it was taken down. It made another appearance at the St Louis Exposition in 1906, after which it was destroyed. The public’s interest had waned, and the huge wheel’s expense could no longer be justified.

Sadly, the brilliant engineer who designed the wheel (in spite of colleagues insisting that it couldn’t be done, that it would never work, that it would collapse) died just 2 years after the completion of the wheel, a lonely man. And, though he made a large profit from the wheel, he was bankrupt at the time of his death. I haven’t been able to discover why. Wikipedia says he was involved in “litigation” at the time of his death.

The book was a great intoduction to the story of George Ferris, but it was quite technical and engineering-ish for a children’s book. It was difficult for us to picture and understand some parts, but it certainly showed the complexities and challenges of the construction of the wheel.


  1. he was a great man

  2. A visionary, for sure.

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