George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. (February 14, 1859 – November 22, 1896) was an American engineer. He is mostly known for creating the original Ferris Wheel for the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition. Ferris was born on February 14, 1859, in Galesburg, Illinois, the town founded by his namesake, George Washington Gale.
Ferris left Nevada in 1875 to attend the California Military Academy in Oakland, where he graduated in 1876. He graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, in the class of 1881 with a degree in Civil Engineering. At RPI he was a charter member of the local chapter of Chi Phi Fraternity and a member of the Rensselaer Society of Engineers. He was made a member of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Alumni Hall of Fame in 1998.
Ferris began his career in the railroad industry and was interested in bridge building. He founded a company, G.W.G. Ferris & Co. in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to test and inspect metals for railroads and bridge builders.
News of the World's Columbian Exposition to be held in 1893, in Chicago, Illinois, drew Ferris to the city. In 1891, the directors of the World's Columbian Exposition issued a challenge to American engineers to conceive of a monument for the fair that would surpass the Eiffel Tower, the great structure of the Paris International Exposition of 1889. The planners wanted something "original, daring and unique." Ferris responded with a proposed wheel from which visitors would be able to view the entire exhibition, a wheel that would "Out-Eiffel Eiffel." The planners feared his design for a rotating wheel towering over the grounds could not possibly be safe.
Ferris persisted. He returned in a few weeks with several respectable endorsements from established engineers, and the committee agreed to allow construction to begin. Most convincingly, he had recruited several local investors to cover the $400,000 cost of construction. The planning commission of the Exposition hoped that admissions from the Ferris Wheel would pull the fair out of debt and eventually make it profitable.
The Ferris Wheel had 36 cars, each fitted with 40 revolving chairs and able to accommodate up to 60 people, giving a total capacity of 2,160. When the fair opened, it carried some 38,000 passengers daily, taking 20 minutes to complete two revolutions, the first involving six stops to allow passengers to exit and enter and the second a nine-minute non-stop rotation, for which the ticket holder paid 50 cents. It carried 2.5 million passengers before it was finally demolished in 1906.
The original Ferris Wheel, sometimes also referred to as the Chicago Wheel, was the centerpiece of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. Intended to rival the 1889 Paris Exposition's 324-metre (1,063 ft) Eiffel Tower, the Ferris Wheel was the Columbian Exposition's largest attraction, with a height of 80.4 metres (264 ft). The Ferris Wheel was dismantled then rebuilt near Lincoln Park, Chicago, in 1895, and dismantled and rebuilt a third and final time for the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. It was demolished there in 1906.
Dynamite was used to break through three-feet of frozen ground, to create a foundation for the wheel, during the construction of the wheel in Jackson Park during the winter of 1892-3. Jets of steam were used by workers to thaw dirt and prevent poured concrete from freezing. Piles of timber were driven thirty-two feet into the ground, on top of which was laid a grillage of steel, filled with concrete.
The wheel rotated on a 71-ton, 45.5-foot axle comprising what was at that time the world's largest hollow forging, manufactured in Pittsburgh by the Bethlehem Iron Company and weighing 89,320 pounds, together with two 16-foot-diameter (4.9 m) cast-iron spiders weighing 53,031 pounds.
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