The Ferris Wheel

From Bombs and Bones:

George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.
(14 Feb. 1859-22 Nov. 1896)

When Daniel H. Burnham, chief of construction for the World’s Columbian Exposition, challenged the civil engineers of the country to produce something to rival the Eiffel Tower of the Paris Exposition, Ferris’s imagination was fired, and in an effort to achieve something entirely new he designed the Ferris Wheel. He undertook its construction against the advice of friends and business associates. In the midst of the severe financial depression which the country was experiencing in 1892, the financing of the proposition was rather a difficult matter; at first the scheme was looked upon as fantastic; not for some months was he granted a concession

, and not until after the Fair had opened was the wheel completed. Rising 250 feet above the Midway, carrying thirty-six cars, each with a capacity of some forty passengers, revolving under perfect control, and stable against the strongest winds from Lake Michigan, it excited general attention. The daring and accuracy involved in its design and the precision of machine work involved in its construction won the admiration of engineers. The most spectacular feature of the Exposition, it proved also a profitable investment. Ferris died less than four years later. He was survived by his wife, Margaret Beatty of Canton, Ohio. He left no children.

In the summer of 1893, at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, an engineering marvel was unveiled and immediately captured the world’s attention. It was a towering, web-like giant wheel, standing upright and rotating high above the city. Several stories taller than any existing American building, the Ferris Wheel carried adventure-seeking passengers to the dizzying height of 264 feet and provided panoramic views never before possible. George W. G. Ferris Jr. and his wheel helped usher America eager to identify itself with ingenuity, entrepreneurialism, and innovation into the 20th century. Yet the very wheel that came to define George Ferris in the end consumed him, leaving him ruined. This book is the first full-length biography of George Ferris. He was a civil engineer, an inventor, and a pioneer for his development of structural steel in bridge building.