Ferris wheels are iconic amusement park attractions known for providing breathtaking views from high up in the air. These gently rotating giant wheels allow riders of all ages to experience the thrill of “flying” while safely seated.
Ferris wheels have a fascinating history and engineering behind them. Here are 10 interesting facts about Ferris wheels that will give you a new appreciation for these popular rides:
For over 100 years, Ferris wheels have been a staple of amusement parks, carnivals, and fairs. Their enormous spinning wheels dominate the skyline, inviting visitors to take a ride and see the sights from above. Ferris wheels move slowly and smoothly, making them one of the most accessible and enjoyable rides for people of all ages. Beyond the pleasure of riding, Ferris wheels have an intriguing backstory.
1. Ferris Wheels Were Invented for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair
The original Ferris wheel made its debut at the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition 1). It was invented by Pittsburgh engineer George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. specifically for this World’s fair. Ferris wanted to create something to rival the Eiffel Tower that had been constructed for the Paris Exposition of 1889.
Standing an impressive 264 feet tall, Ferris’ wheel had 36 cars and could hold up to 2,160 riders. During the 19 weeks of the fair, over 1.5 million people rode the Ferris wheel, cementing its popularity.
2. The World’s Tallest Ferris Wheel Stands in Dubai
The Ain Dubai, located on Bluewaters Island in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is the tallest Ferris wheel in the world at a staggering height of 820 feet. This makes it over 100 feet taller than the High Roller in Las Vegas, which previously held the record.
The Ain Dubai has 48 capsules, each able to carry up to 40 passengers. A full rotation takes about 38 minutes. Riders are treated to unparalleled views of Dubai, the Persian Gulf, and the Dubai Marina skyline from the top.
3. The ‘Chicago Wheel’ Was Rarely Built
When George Ferris first proposed the idea for his giant wheel to the directors of the Chicago World’s Fair, they were skeptical it could be safely built and operated. At the time, the scale Ferris envisioned was unprecedented.
Ferris invested $25,000 of his own money to conduct safety studies and eventually convinced the board his design was structurally sound. He secured additional funding and set to work constructing the 264-foot behemoth that became known as the ‘Chicago Wheel.’
4. Some Original Wheels Were Powered by Steam Engines
The power source for early Ferris wheels differed greatly from today’s electric motors. The original Chicago Ferris wheel was driven by two 1,000-horsepower reversible steam engines. One powered the wheel while the other served as a backup.
Primitive steam engines were also used for the 94-meter Great Wheel built for the Empire of India Exhibition in London in 1895. Its two steam engines pumped water to a high reservoir, which then flowed down to power the wheel’s rotation.
5. The ‘Father of the Ferris Wheel’ Died Young and Penniless
Despite inventing one of America’s most iconic amusement park rides, George Ferris didn’t live to see its lasting success. After the Chicago World’s Fair ended, the Ferris wheel was moved to Chicago’s North Clark Street where it operated until 1903.
Ferris passed away in 1896 at just 37 years old after succumbing to typhoid fever. Sadly, he died bankrupt and embittered over lawsuits related to the Ferris wheel enterprise.
6. Some Wheels Rotate on an Angle
Most Ferris wheels rotate vertically on a level horizontal plane. However, some wheels have an off-axis tilt that causes the wheel to rotate at an angle.
One example is the Wonder Wheel at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park in Coney Island, New York. Built in 1920, this eccentric wheel tilts at a 45-degree angle. The more extreme Spider on Brighton Palace Pier in England tilts at a steep 60-degree angle.
7. Riders Experience Increased G-Forces at the Bottom
While Ferris wheelcars remain level at all times, riders experience variations in G-force, depending on their location around the wheel.
At the top, riders feel weightless as the car changes direction. But at the bottom, where the linear speed is greatest, riders feel up to 1.5 G’s. This means a 150-pound person would briefly feel like they weigh 225 pounds at the bottom of the wheel.
8. The ‘Chicago Wheel’ Was Destroyed by Dynamite
After operating at two world fairs, the original Chicago Ferris wheel was demolished in 1906. It took workers weeks to dismantle the massive wheel. But they still had to deal with the central 45-foot, 89,320-pound axle.
Their solution was to use dynamite. It took 200 pounds of explosives to finally blast the axle apart so the steel could be sold for scrap.
9. Singapore Flyer Capsules are Three Stories Tall
At 541 feet tall, the Singapore Flyer was the world’s tallest Ferris wheel from 2008 to 2014. It has 28 permanently fixed capsules that are three stories high and can hold 28 passengers each.
Total capsule space is equivalent to three basketball courts or seven bowling lanes. Capsules are fitted with interactive multimedia to entertain riders throughout their 30-minute rotation.
10. Eli Bridge Company Built the First Portable Wheel
Previously, wheels had heavy masonry foundations or steel piles anchoring them to a permanent location. Eli Bridge’s innovation made the Ferris wheel a staple of mobile carnivals.
From their towering heights to the physics behind them, Ferris wheels have intriguing histories and engineering. These gentle giants have been sources of joy and wonder for generations. With their rich past and continual improvements, Ferris wheels will continue thrilling riders well into the future.
The next time you spot a Ferris wheel’s giant rotating wheel, take a moment to appreciate the legacy behind it. Then hop aboard for stunning views and a memorable experience!