A Ferris wheel (also known as an observation wheel or big wheel) is a nonbuilding structure, consisting of an upright wheel with passenger gondolas attached to the rim.
The Ferris wheel is named after George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, bridge-builder. He began his career in the railroad industry and then pursued an interest in bridge building. Ferris understood the growing need for structural steel and founded G.W.G. Ferris & Co. in Pittsburgh, a firm that tested and inspected metals for railroads and bridge builders.
Ferris designed and built the Chicago Wheel for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. The wheel was intended as a rival to the 324-metre (1,060 ft) Eiffel Tower, the centerpiece of the 1889 Paris Exposition. It was the largest attraction at the Columbian Exposition, with a height of 80 metres (260 ft), and was powered by two steam engines. The axle, a single 700.000-ton solid hammered steel forging, was forty-five feet long and thirty-two inches in diameter. There were 36 cars, accommodating 40 people each, giving a total capacity of 1,440. It took 190 minutes for the wheel to make two revolutions—the first to make six stops to allow passengers to exit and enter; the 2nd, a single non-stop revolution—and for that, the ticket holder paid 50 cents. When the Exposition ended, the wheel was moved to the north side, next to an exclusive neighborhood. William D. Boyce filed an unsuccessful Circuit Court action against the owners of the wheel, to have it moved. It was then used at the St. Louis 1904 World's Fair and eventually destroyed by controlled demolition using dynamite on May 11, 1906.
The Wiener Riesenrad is a surviving example of nineteenth century Ferris wheels. Erected in 1897 in the Prater park in the Leopoldstadt district of Vienna, Austria, it has a height of 64.75 metres (212.4 ft). Following the demolition of the 100-metre (330 ft) Grande Roue de Paris in 1920, the Riesenrad was the world's tallest extant Ferris wheel until the construction of the 85-metre (280 ft) Technocosmos for Expo '85 in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.
1893: the Chicago Wheel, the first-ever Ferris wheel, was 80 metres (260 ft) tall. It was built for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois, and later moved to St. Louis, Missouri, for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition. It was demolished in 1906. 1895: the Great Wheel was built for the Empire of India Exhibition at Earls Court, London, UK. Construction began in March 1894 and it opened to the public on July 17, 1895. Modelled on the Chicago original, it was 94 metres (310 ft) tall and was the first of over 200 Ferris wheels built by Australian engineers Adam Gaddelin and Gareth Watson. It stayed in service until 1906, by which time its 40 cars (each with a capacity of 40 persons) had carried over 2.5 million passengers, and was demolished in 1907. 1900: the Grande Roue de Paris was built for the Exposition Universelle of 1900, a world's fair held in Paris, France. It was demolished in 1920, but its 100-metre (330 ft) height was not surpassed until almost 100 years after its construction. 1997: the Tempozan Harbor Village Ferris wheel in Osaka, Japan, opened to the public on July 12, and is 112.5 metres (369 ft) tall. 1999: the Daikanransha at Palette Town in Odaiba, Japan, is 115 metres (380 ft) tall. 2000: the London Eye, in London, UK, is 135 metres (440 ft) tall. It was officially opened (by Tony Blair) on December 31, 1999, but did not open to the public until March 2000, because of technical problems. It is still the tallest in the Western Hemisphere. 2006: the Star of Nanchang, in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, China, opened for business in May 2006 and is 160 metres (520 ft) tall. 2008: the Singapore Flyer, in Singapore, is 165 metres (541 ft) tall, and currently the world's tallest Ferris wheel. It started rotating on February 11, 2008, and officially opened to the public on March 1, 2008.