History Of The Ferris Wheel

The Ferris Wheel. Named after George Washington Ferris, and another of the iconic traditional fairground rides.

History Of The Ferris Wheel

One of the oldest of the traditional rides still operating on the modern fairground, the Ferris wheel, or ‘Big’ wheel as its known more commonly in the UK.

There are various sizes and types, and some unusual examples around the world, but the basic ride experience has remained the same pretty much from day one.

There are historic examples of this type of ‘attraction’ dating as far back as the 17th century.

Peter Mundy, a British merchant, trader and traveller described a pleaseure ride very similar to what we would recognise as a wheel in 1620 in the Ottoman Balkans. A Roman traveller, Pietro Della Valle wrote of a wheel at a festival in Constantinople five years earlier in 1615.

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Somers Wheel

William Somers Wheel

1892 saw the installation of 3 fifty foot high wooden wheels at parks in New Jersey and New York. He applied for and was awarded a patent for a ‘Roundabout’.

George Washington Gale rode on one of Somers wheels in Atlantic city before designing his own wheel. Somers filed a lawsuit in 1893 for patent infringement, however Ferris succesfully argued that his technology was sufficiently different  and the case was dismissed.

Original Ferris Wheel

The ‘Ferris Wheel’

What many people regard as the original wheel, was the ‘Chicago Wheel’ designed by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr.

He designed it for World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, intending it to compete with the Eiffel tower, the centrepiece of the 1889 Paris exposition.

At over 80 metres high the wheel rotated on a 71 ton, 45.5 foot axle, which was at the time, the world’s largest hollow forging.

The wheel had 36 cars, each fitted with 40 revolving chairs and able to accomadate upto 60 people, giving a total of 2160 passangers. The wheel carried some 38,000 passangers daily,taking 20 minutes to complete  two revolutions.

Wiener Riesenrad

Wiener Riesenrad

Designed by British engineers Harry Hitchins and Hubert Cecil Booth and constructed in 1897 Walter Bassett Bassett, another Englishman.

The Riesenrad is situated at the entrance to the Prater amusement park in Leopoldstadt and is the world’s oldest surviving wheel.

It narrowly escaped destruction in 1916 when a permit was issued to dispose of it, thankfully a lack of funds preventing this. World War II saw the wheel severely damaged, resulting in continued operation with only 15 gondolas, as opposed to the original 30.

In popular culture the wheel has appeared in numerous films including James Bond’s The Living Daylights.

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