Ferris’ “Pleasure Wheel”

DaytonaWhile at the Daytona International Speedway recently, I spent some time after dark watching the ferris wheel. All the colored lights bring back fond memories of our hometown fair and being “stuck” at the top and able to see forever.

The ferris wheel, named for George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., seems to have its origins in a 17th century “pleasure wheel,” on which passengers rode in chairs suspended from large wooden rings turned by several strong men. These wheels or swingsTurkish wheel were in operation as long ago as 1615 in Constantinople. Pietro Della Valle, a Roman traveller who attended a Ramadan festival in Constantinople, described a Great Wheel which swept him upwards and downwards with some enjoyable speed.

A Frenchman, Antonio Manguino, brought the wooden pleasure wheel to America in 1848 to attract visitors to his fair in Walton Spring, Georgia.

In 1892, William Somers installed three fifty-foot wooden wheels at Asbury Park and Atlantic City, New Jersey; and Coney Island, New York. The following year he was granted the first U.S. patent for a “Roundabout.” Ferris rode on Somers’ wheel in Atlantic City prior to designing his wheel for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. [It should be noted that Ferris’ design was so similar that Somers filed a lawsuit for patent infringement. Ferris and his lawyers successfully argued that the Ferris Wheel and its technology differed greatly from Somers’ wheel, and the case was dismissed.]

The original Chicago Ferris-wheel“Chicago Ferris Wheel” stood 264 feet high. The wheel rotated on a 71-ton, 45.5-foot axle, with two 16-foot-diameter cast-iron spiders weighing another 26 tons.

There were 36 cars, each fitted with 40 revolving chairs and able to accommodate up to 60 people, giving a total capacity of 2,160 at a time (that’s another 2+ tons). The wheel took twenty minutes to complete two revolutions and carried 38,000 passengers daily at 50 cents each.

After the Exposition, the wheel was rebuilt on Chicago’s North Side, near Lincoln Park, next to an exclusive neighborhood. It operated there from October 1895 until 1903, when it was again dismantled, then transported by rail to St. Louis for the 1904 World’s Fair. The Chicago Ferris Wheel was finally demolished on May 11, 1906.

Tracy Garrett
History, Texas, cowboys, horses—these are a few of Tracy’s favorite things. Check out her westerns at www.TracyGarrett.com.

13 Comments

  1. I had no idea the ferris wheel went so far back in history.

    1. I was surprised, too, Janine. And interested in the patent suit. 🙂

  2. How interesting to learn the origins of the Ferris Wheel! I had no idea it dated back so far!

    1. Britney, the Turkish roundabout was a surprise to me. 1600’s? Wow.

  3. I use to love riding the Ferris Wheel but not any more. I don’t like heights. One of the local fairs had a double Ferris Wheel and I loved it, wouldn’t get on it now for nothing. Interesting post, I didn’t know they had been around that long.

    1. Quilt Lady, I still love to go up. I always want to see as far as I can. I think that comes from my Grandmother’s love of the North Dakota plains. Unfortunately, the getting down part is getting harder. lol

  4. Again, I LOVE all the interesting things I learn on here!! Did not know the history of the Ferris Wheel. Has anyone tried the huge one in Vegas?

    1. Not me, Connie. I’m too much of a chicken for one that big! lol

  5. intertesting post,,i used to love riding as a kid until I got stuck on one back in the late 70s ,stuck on top for a hour,now im really nervous about riding them,,not one of my favorite rides,,but i will suck it up and ride with the grandkids when necessary

    1. Thats the way I am about roller coasters, Vickie. Only if the nieces and nephews guilt me into it.

  6. Wow, I didn’t realize the history with the ferris wheel. I love learning this history. Reminds me of a favorite movie, Meet Me In St Louis with Julie Garland. It’s about the fair there but can’t recall the year but I think late 1800 or early 2000 ‘s.

  7. I love that movie, State Fair.

  8. Thanks for the informative post. Never really thought about the origins or age of the ferris wheel.

    The ferris wheel was my favorite ride at the fair when I was growing up. Still is. I remember hoping we would get stopped at the top, so we would get a good view of the fair. Night time rides had their own special appeal. It has been a long time since I have been on one. Will have to work on that this summer. Will have to find an excuse to grab the grandchildren and head to the fair. Best excuse in the world to ride one.

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