The Ferris Wheel: A Perpetual Chicago Staple

Hello, everyone! This post is the second in my series about how the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois affected travel and tourism in the city, both at the time and up until today, which I believe will be called “Echoes of the Exposition.” My first post was an overview of the history of the Wellington Hotel, in case anyone is interested, and the one at hand is in regards to Ferris wheels in Chicago. When I first pondered the possibility of writing about the Ferris wheel of Chicago’s World Fair, I found the idea to be a cliché; I mean, any listener of the fantastic song entitled “Come On! Feel the Illinoise!” by Sufjan Stevens has probably inferred that the Ferris wheel was a significant aspect of the World’s Columbian Exposition. Soon, though, I realized that I could take a specific and (hopefully) interesting look at how the invention of the Ferris wheel still impacts tourism in Chicago. Consequently, this post now exists.

Just as with my previous post in the series, I hope you all enjoy what is the product of a week’s worth of research and writing, and possibly offer me feedback and ideas for future posts of this sort. In case anyone is interested as to where I found the information stated throughout this post, the sources are numbered, as indicated within parentheses; the numbers correspond to citations under “Sources” at the bottom of this post. Please enjoy, as I hope every reader will learn something new about the Ferris wheel, beyond its connotations.

-Stephanie


The “Disagreeable sensations” it causes (1), the noises and “low-class” visitors garnered by its presence (2), its future perception by others as a toy (3), and its status as a component of a location denounced as “too circuslike and commercial” (4): The subject of such criticism is none other than the Ferris wheel, an invention that has incarnated itself in Chicago for over a century. Regardless of the harsh comments directed toward this attraction over the years, the Ferris wheel is still a prominent component of tourism, even just within the City of Chicago.

The story of the Ferris wheel begins with George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., who was a bridge engineer in Pittsburgh, PA, and developed the design of the wheel while a steel inspector for the World’s Columbian Exposition. This invention, as presented to lead architect Daniel Burnham, would “rival in novelty” to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France that debuted at the 1889 Exposition Universelle and was desired to be upstaged at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893; after ensuring the safety of the passengers that would end up rotating around its central axis, the Ferris wheel was built (5 & 6). According to plans announced in the Chicago Daily Tribune on February 25, 1893, the wheel would be 264 feet tall, 250 feet in diameter, have an engine with 2000 horse-power, and accommodate 2,160 people due to its thirty-six cars with a maximum capacity of sixty people each. Furthermore, the article claims that 3,000 incandescent lights of varying colors would be around the crown of the wheel, and that its proposed location was “in the middle driveway of the Midway Plaisance, about 100 feet from one of the entrance gates”; the driveway would momentarily divide around the wheel (5).

A trial run of the Ferris wheel occurred on June 15, 1893, and despite any initial fears of the wheel, the seventy-five passengers remained safe; the wife of Ferris cracking open a bottle of champagne on the gate of one of the wheel’s cars and stating “I have every confidence in Mr. Ferris” may or may not have helped calm the guests down before the ride began. The following quotation from the corresponding Chicago Daily Tribune article demonstrates the beauty found within the monumental invention, regardless of the facts that the ride only demanded 20 minutes of the time of its passengers and involved about 1,000 feet of space, which people took notice of (7):

But everybody forgot the experiment and the uncertainty of the adventure in which they were engaged in the delight of the novel experience. They minded not that winds blew to and fro the cars in which they rode, that a world of people stood beneath and looked for nothing but a disastrous ending to the maiden effort of the most wonderful vehicle of transportation in the whole of the great World’s Fair. Indeed, there was not a hand that quivered sufficiently to spill a drop from the glasses in which the health of Mr. Ferris, the projector of the wheel, was drank.

Soon enough, attendees of the World’s Columbian Exposition were able to enjoy the Ferris wheel. Before then, though, due to an observation that had been made of visitors asking questions along the lines of “What on earth is that?” upon first viewing the invention after exiting the “L,” an article in the Chicago Daily Tribune published on June 18, 1893 set out to explain what this attraction, regarded as the landmark of the World’s Fair, was, and how it worked (8).

As mentioned before, some once-fearless passengers ended up gaining a distaste for the motion the Ferris wheel inflicted upon them, thus citing a “disagreeable sensation” after their first ride. These reactions were proclaimed following the opening of the Ferris wheel on June 21, 1893, as on that day, 5,000 invited guests crowded into the Midway Plaisance before the thousands of other visitors eagerly awaited their boarding; the situation was described as a “moving mass of humanity” (1). As shown, the Ferris wheel was immediately intriguing to visitors. In fact, an article from the History Channel website claims that the Ferris wheel, with its price for admission being fifty cents (twice the price of a ticket to the fair itself), essentially boosted the World Columbian Exposition’s “precarious finances” in June 1893 (9). A Chicago Daily Tribune article from September 8, 1893 proves this success, as it states that by the next night, it would be probable for the Ferris wheel to have garnered $300,000, a feat no other aspect of the fair had accomplished. For context, the wheel itself cost about $300,000 to produce; in terms of the contract at hand, the article states the following (10):

It is estimated that up to the close of the Fair an additional $200,000 will be taken in, so that in the end the Exposition company will be $100,000 ahead while Mr. Ferris will have his big wheel and a like amount of money.

Another aspect of the success of the Ferris wheel that cannot be overlooked is its appeal to children. In a Chicago Daily Tribune article published on October 17, 1893, the adventures of Bertie and Johnnie Lowe, 6-7 year olds, at the World’s Fair are described. As expected, one of the features of the World’s Fair they were most drawn to was the event’s Ferris Wheel (11). The potential impact of sentimentality and nostalgia due to the allowance of Chicago’s children to visit the World’s Fair is argued in a Chicago Daily Tribune article entitled “LET THE CHILDREN GO TO THE FAIR”; the Ferris Wheel is the first aspect of the fair that is explained as one of the features the children would likely tell their eventual grandchildren about. The following assertion is fascinating, as it is reminiscent of what makes travel and tourist destinations so successful over extensive time periods and across generations (12):

Give them all a chance to see it, these future chroniclers of its incomparable beauty, and to see it all and often, that it may be impressed upon their memories, and that they may carry its recollections with them to tell those who in turn shall come after them.

The overall popularity of the World’s Columbian Exposition proved itself when on October 19, 1893, an announcement was published, stating that the World’s Fair would continue past its planned closing on October 30, the declared Columbus Day; included in this extension was the Ferris wheel, as people predicted that its existence would outlast the other attractions (13). A few days later, it was even declared of the Ferris wheel, “It Will Go Down to History as One of the Wonders of This Century of Wonders,” along with the approximation of its 1,253,885 passengers by the morning of Saturday, October 21, and its day of largest attendance as 34,451 guests on Chicago day, October 9 (14).

“The World’s Fair is dead”: This melodramatic assertion from the Chicago Tribune was made in regards to the official and “actual” conclusion of the World’s Columbian Exposition at 11 PM on October 31, 1893. Despite the fact that the fair was over, though, people were allowed to walk the grounds for fifty cents, and the lingering of attractions such as the Ferris wheel for business was anticipated and seen as feasible (15), thus showing the potential for the Ferris wheel as a whole to become a staple tourist attraction past the year of 1893.

The Ferris Wheel Company did end up disobeying orders to close as part of Midway on November 1, and this action resulted in “exciting scenes, free fighting, a small riot, and numerous arrests outside the wheel gates,” as described in the New York Times. A multitude of people were determined to rake a ride on the Ferris wheel, as doing so was the reason for their spending of fifty cents; Ferris himself asserted that his contract with the Exposition Company allowed operations to continue “sixty days after Nov. 30 next,” and he looked down upon the controversy. Still, those of the Ferris Company had their admission taken away, while the wheel itself would still operate (16).

On November 9, 1893, it was stated by the Chicago Daily Tribune that attendance at the Ferris wheel had dipped, but was still in operation because of the aforementioned contract. The question of where the wheel would be moved to also appeared (which was the most likely option for how to deal with the wheel); those involved with the Ferris Wheel company met at the Rookery around this time, but did not touch on the issue. Ferris himself would make the decision in up to a couple of weeks thereafter, but meanwhile, Chicagoans had some ideas, including keeping the wheel where it was, and moving it to areas such as Lincoln Park or the center of the city itself; Atlantic City and Coney Island also bid on it (17). Clearly, the benefits of the icon that the Ferris wheel had become were desired by those throughout Chicago and beyond.

The “World’s Fair Notes” published on November 23, 1893 in the Chicago Daily Tribune show the now-proven notion that the Ferris wheel would not remain at its location for much longer, as it states “The demolition of the Ferris wheel has been suspended for several days. But workmen are demolishing the surrounding offices” (18).

According to an article published in the Chicago Daily Tribune, preliminary work toward demolishing the wheel began on April 26, 1894, with its last ride occurring later in the week for the Ferris Wheel Company members. At the time, reports claimed that the wheel would be disassembled, taken by train, and rebuilt in New York City at Thirty-seventh street and Broadway for the total cost of $150,000. Also, the total number of passengers on the Ferris wheel during the World’s Fair was claimed to be 2,000,000 in its 10,000 trips, although another article found the total to be 1,550,000 (19 & 2).

Notably, by the end of its run, the Ferris wheel’s presence led to $750,000 in revenue, yet Ferris himself lost much of these ticket sales, due to the World’s Fair’s insistence, and Ferris’s loss of a court case about the issue (20).

The New York plan did not work out, as the wheel was actually dismantled and rebuilt adjacent to Jackson Park in Chicago; it took 86 days to deconstruct, and cost $14,833 (21). Some people of Lake View objected the existence of this project, to be at the northeast corner of North Clark Street and Wrightwood Avenue, which also included the placement of a merry-go-round and “scenic theater,” with its overall cost per person being fifty cents. The reasons for this rejection were ones such as overcrowding, loud noises, and “low-class” visitors, as mentioned before (2). What all of these concerns do show, though, is the association of the Ferris wheel with tourism: the exact reason why the wheel could be beneficial for the city.

Regardless of the criticism thrown at the idea, the wheel began operations in 1856 (6), and the opening of Ferris Wheel Park was declared in the Chicago Daily Tribune on May 10, 1896, as it would open on the following Saturday. The Ferris wheel was the expected major attraction at the park, and it would stand 274 feet tall from the ground, offer thirty-six cars, and accommodate 2,160 passengers, similar to the characteristics of the Ferris wheel at the World’s Fair. The lack of fear necessitated by the attraction was promoted once again, along with the following assertion, which demonstrates the appeal the park wanted to prompt in its visitors (22):

Every possible improvement is being made to make this a popular and strictly high-class place of amusement.

On November 22, 1896, though, George W.G. Ferris died in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, due to an illness that developed into typhoid fever. Furthermore, is stated in an article published in the Chicago Daily Tribune that the seizing of the wheel by Sheriff Pease after the World’s Fair may have contributed to the illness (23).

The legacy of the invention of the Ferris wheel would continue, though, as the New York Times issue from November 24, 1896 states that the Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition to take place the following May would include “a development of the Ferris wheel idea,” due to the attention garnered by the one in Chicago’s World Fair (24). In fact, the proposed see-saw was called the “FERRIS WHEEL OF THE TENNESSEE FAIR” by the Chicago Daily Tribune (25).

Chicago’s Ferris wheel itself garnered some attention, all the while. For instance, in the August 3, 1898 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune, the visit made by Count of Turin to Chicago from the day prior is explained. The Prince only saw three locations, and could not be persuaded to be involved with any other in-depth exploration; the three areas were the Stock Yards, the Chicago Avenue pumping station, and the Ferris wheel (26). This specific instance encapsulates the novelty of the Ferris wheel that still remained at the end of the century, and thus, the lasting power of this wonderment that will further be examined.

The next moment of clear skepticism in regards to the durability of the Ferris wheel’s charm is exemplified in an article published in the Chicago Daily Tribune on April 11, 1900 entitled “WHEN THE CATS ARE AWAY.” This piece makes reference to the Exposition Universelle taking place that summer in Paris, and exemplifies a fear that Chicago’s World Fair would be seen as incomparable to the upcoming event’s offerings. The following quotation about Chicagoans showcases the underlying fear and insecurity that in due time, inventions such as the Ferris wheel would not leave their once-expected impressive legacy (3):

Of course these remaining few will have to fortify themselves against the stories that will be told by returning sightseers. This will be the most galling part of the ordeal: to have to endure being assured that our World’s Exposition was a mere country fair in comparison, that the Ferris wheel was a toy, and the Midway but an innocent rural merrymaking. Yet Chicago is never at a loss to know how to put down boasters, and in the meantime the city may be able to get up a few sensations of its own.

The Ferris wheel invention proved itself to be more than a naïve one, nonetheless. Once again, the design was seen as a standard of sorts, as Alvin U. Schneider, a Chicago barber, developed an invention called an “urban umbrella.” Of the design created for the St. Louis exposition, he stated that it would “get away from both the Eiffel and Ferris ideas” that had created a trend in the realm of towers (27).

Little did Schneider know that a new standard would, in the end, not have to be set for the event. Instead, as explained on the Hyde Park Historical Society website, Ferris Wheel Park had not done as well as expected, and its Ferris Wheel was sold and then rebuilt by July 1904 for the St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Exposition, thus demonstrating its lasting value and impressiveness (21). In fact, a Chicago Daily Tribune article about the event states “The Ferris wheel will be about the only old attraction which the exposition company has accepted,” in addition to a reminder of the fair’s rule to not reuse booths from other expositions for exhibits (28). Consequently, it can be inferred that the wheel was truly exceptional.

By May of 1906, though, the reign of this specific Ferris wheel would finally come to an end. The article on the Chicago Architecture Foundation website entitled “Chicago’s ferris wheel story” states of such an event “a demolition company used 200 pounds of dynamite to destroy the wheel. Its remnants were sold for scrap metal” (6). Even though this seemingly useless and gargantuan object that served 7,000,000 people had finally been rid of (29), its presence in Chicago pop culture would not leave for too long.

“Accent will be on fun in $150 million Navy Pier rehab”: Such is the title of an article published in the Chicago Tribune on March 6, 1992 about plans as to how Chicago would properly make use of its pier. The then-76-year-old waterside structure “was a major municipal gathering-place and the site of concerts, fishing and other leisure pursuits” in the 1920s and 1930s, in addition to the home of another ferris wheel (30 & 31). The new plans for the revitalization of this area, subsequently, called for elements such as a children’s museum, a fancy restaurant on the edge of the lake, and as hinted at, a Ferris wheel (30).

Even before construction began, written pieces about the prevalence of Ferris wheels showed the public that the invention still was something to be honored. For instance, a profile of an owner of entertainment companies, Jeff Blomsness, was published in the September 6, 1992 edition of the Chicago Tribune, and within it, Blomsness’ fear of Ferris wheels is addressed, in addition to the notion that his 100-foot-tall and 160-passenger-capacity wheel is “one of the main attractions at the more than 300 carnivals a year Blomsness runs throughout Illinois and Wisconsin” (32). Furthermore, a later announcement declared that an attempt was being made to have the 1993 Illinois State Fair host the largest collection of Ferris wheels ever, in celebration of the invention’s 100 years of existence. Remarkably, William E. Sullivan, president of Eli Bridge Co. (which built about two wheels a month at the time), also claimed that about 800 Ferris wheels operated at the time in the United States, mostly of the range in which they are “16 to 62 feet high and carry 32 to 48 passengers” (33). Due to all of this information, the significance of the Ferris wheel as an attraction evidently remained in the 1990s, almost 100 years after Ferris’s invention had first reigned.

During that year of the 100th anniversary of the World’s Columbian Exposition, an article entitled “PIER PLEASURE PUBLIC PROJECT, TO WORK, NEEDS YEAR-ROUND LURES” by John Handley was published in the Chicago Tribune on August 29, which describes the history of utilization of Navy Pier and its upcoming changes. This piece indicates that construction had already begun on the pier’s renovations, with its projected opening being in fall of 1994; 3.2 million yearly visitors were expected, and Mayor Daley even stated of the pier “It will be a major tourist attraction that will bring out-of-towners here to Chicago and that will further help our economy.” Tourism was surely one of the main foci of the Navy Pier renovation; the article also makes reference to the average hotel occupancy of less than 70 percent in the city at the time, which people expected the pier to improve. The aforementioned Ferris wheel was still part of the plans for the overlying attraction, as it would be placed in the Navy Pier Gardens and open in spring of 1995. Even so, fear of the renovation’s possible results remained, as the last sentence of the article states the following (34):

The $150 million gamble, though, is whether the public will come to play at Navy Pier. The dice are rolling.

Descriptions of these renovations were further granted by Grant Pick for the Chicago Tribune, as published on May 21, 1995, the year in which the “new” Navy Pier debuted. Once again, the Ferris wheel is explained within the article, this time as “A huge, white Ferris wheel, manufactured in the Netherlands and 15 stories high” that would offer fantastic views of the city from their red cabs; the presence of a Ferris wheel in the early, 1916 incarnation of the pier is referenced as well. At this point, the expected number of visitors for the year at the location lowered to three million, with four million projected for the following year (31).

In July of 1995, Navy Pier finally held its rededication ceremony (although its renovations were not yet complete), and of it, Mayor Daley claimed “Navy Pier is reclaiming its destiny,” making reference to Daniel Burnham’s original vision of the pier that would help Chicagoans “escape from the petty things in life.” This renovation still garnered criticism, as alluded to earlier, since people saw the tourist destination as unnecessary and “too circuslike and commercial,” but nevertheless, the Ferris wheel had already attracted 105,000 passengers within two weeks, with its price per ride set at $2. Luckily for critics, the idea of having McDonald’s golden arches at the center of the Ferris wheel did not withstand the debated plans long enough for them to make their way onto the attraction already seen as one for tourists (4). Also to be noted is the wheel’s “continuous rotation system,” which means that the wheel remained in motion as passengers entered and exited the cars (6). In a way that demonstrates the relation of the Ferris wheel to travel & tourism, the New York Times published an article on August 6, 1995 about the newly-renovated Navy Pier, describing what resulted in expenditures of $204 million and features such as the 150-foot-tall Ferris wheel that they profess “provides both a ride and a view”; a photograph of the Ferris wheel is the sole image provided of the pier (35). As a result, the wheel’s prominence, whether due solely to its size or not, is evident.

The reputation of this new Ferris wheel soon began to form. For instance, when the Chicago Children’s Museum opened with its 99-year lease in October 1995 on Navy Pier, Chicago Tribune writer Jeffrey Bils stated the following (36):

If the Ferris wheel erected last summer on Navy Pier was the first hint that Chicago’s lakefront is adopting a more playful demeanor, then Saturday’s grand opening of the children’s museum left little doubt.

The notion that the Ferris wheel had become representative of Chicago is also exemplified within an article published in the Washington Post on September 13, 1998 entitled “Area Travelers’ U.S. Favorites,” in which information about Chicago as a destination is detailed. As for the must-see spots in Chicago, along with the Art Institute of Chicago and the Magnificent Mile, Navy Pier is highlighted, and specifically its boat tours and Ferris wheel (37). Even just in regards to Chicago, the Ferris wheel was a standout attraction promoted to locals. In a piece discussing offerings at “CHICAGO’S TOURISM SHOWCASE” by Lynn Voedisch, published on June 21, 1999, the Ferris wheel is listed as one of the activities at Navy Pier, of which Chicagoans could still not agree on its merits. The prices at the time were $3.50 for adults, $3 for children under age 12 & seniors, and free for children under the age of 2, and its operations took place from 11 AM to 6 PM from Sunday through Thursday and 11 AM to 8 PM on Friday and Saturday; consequently, it can be concluded that prices rose after its initial opening, but the wheel remained one that could attract people of all ages, especially tourists (38).

The fascination of the rest of the world with the Ferris wheel invention did lead to other incarnations of it, one notable one being the London Eye. A Chicago Tribune article from September 1, 1999 compares the new wheel, which had a planned opening of January 2000, to the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier; while the London Eye promised up to 15,000 passengers a day on its 443-foot-high structure, Chicago’s 150-foot wheel only typically carried 4,500 passengers per day (39).

Eventually, those in Chicago realized that the city needed to reclaim its identity as the location of the first Ferris wheel, and the one that inspired successes such as the London Eye, especially since they desired the honor to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. In a Chicago Tribune article published on September 13, 2008 entitled “Picture Ferris wheel, except twice as tall: Navy Pier hopes tourists would flock to attraction,” these underlying thoughts are described, as Navy Pier officials desired a 300-foot Ferris wheel that would drive the sorts of crowds attractions such as the London Eye had garnered (3.5 million yearly visitors), as opposed to the shorter, now-$6 Ferris wheel that received 750,000 passengers per year. Additionally, having both the old and new wheel was an option put on the table, with the latter offering catering and a much larger capacity. As a whole, with such plans, the following belief was held (40):

For Chicago, the Ferris wheel would not only be a noticeable addition to the skyline, but would act as a symbolic endeavor as well, because the attraction was invented in the early 1890s to be the star of the World’s Fair here.

Just over two years later, future plans for Navy Pier seemed even more uncertain. One known fact of what “Chicago’s top tourist attraction” had in store, though, was that the plans set out in 2006 and 2008 would go unexecuted, as discussed in a Chicago Tribune article entitled “New renovation plan needs overall vision” by Blair Kamin, published on November 10, 2010. As discussed, even the plan to create a larger Ferris wheel based on that of London was “old news” at that point, let alone ideas such as placing a roller coaster “onto an attraction that already resembles a shopping mall or a carnival midway.” Even so, no overall vision for how to refresh the pier was present (41).

“Chicago to replace Navy Pier Ferris wheel with taller one”: This proclamation was made by Blair Kamin and Meredith Rodriguez of the Chicago Tribune on June 23, 2015, signifying the resolution of the Navy Pier renovation debate; the Ferris wheel that had been in operation since 1995 would be dismantled in September of 2015 and replaced by a new, $26.5 million wheel by May 2016. Many exciting details of the new incarnation of the Ferris wheel invention are stated within the article, such as its proposal of having 42 blue-colored, technology-inclusive, and temperature-controlled gondolas for up to ten passengers each, which would help make the $8, 12-minute-long attraction have more year-round appeal for tourists. This wheel would also rise to 196 feet in height, 50 feet higher than the 1995 wheel, but 68 feet shorter than that of the World’s Columbian Exposition. Accordingly, although the planners rejected the claim that they were trying to outdo the work of cities like London, the trend of a “game of ‘Can you top this?’ among cities putting up spectacular observation wheels to attract tourists” was still clear to reporters. As a whole, this Ferris wheel was just one aspect of the overlying plan to improve Navy Pier; the wheel’s attendance dip from one million passengers in 1998 to 760,000 in 2014 (about ten percent of all Navy Pier visitors; 42) was similar to the slip taken by the pier itself. The following quotation represents the overall importance perceived by those looking to improve the area of the Ferris wheel (43):

The wheel will be a symbol of the changes Navy Pier is making in time for its centennial — from a garish tourist trap to a space that focuses on the meeting of Lake Michigan, Chicago’s lakefront parks and the city’s skyline.

Just as expected, the last rotations of the 1995 Ferris wheel took place in September of 2015, as described in the Chicago Tribune. Throughout its last weekend, 30,000 people took their last rides on the 20-year-old attraction, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Navy Pier Inc. CEO, Marilynn Gardner; it even remained operational throughout Saturday’s overnight hours, during which 7,200 people boarded the wheel. The many stories (in regards to familial experiences, and even those with well-known figures) about the wheel held sentimental value throughout the attraction’s last weekend, as people were now old enough to tell their children of their rides on it throughout their own childhood (44). These kinds of anecdotes demonstrate the wheel’s overall significance, both as a historical object and an enduring piece of tourism for the City of Chicago.

It turned out that the 1995 Ferris wheel would have a similar fate to that of the 1893 attraction, as in the January 31, 2016 issue of the Chicago Tribune, it was announced that the Track Family Fun Parks had purchased the 240-passenger-capacity wheel, which would cost $2.5 million to transport to its new home in Branson, Missouri. By doing so, the iconic history of the Ferris wheel as a whole could continue, thus showing the invention’s endurance, even over a century after its first major incarnation was destroyed, to the relief of some (45).

The value of the Ferris wheel is further exemplified simply by a title of an editorial published in the Chicago Tribune: “From the Ferris wheel to ‘The Skyline’: How would you ignite Chicago tourism?” that represented the Editorial Board’s New Plan for Chicago series, aimed at the development of ideas from readers as to how Chicago could be improved upon. The story of George Washington Gale Ferris is just one of the ways by which the authors hoped to inspire and empower Chicagoans; consequently, it can be inferred that in the year of 2016, the Ferris wheel was still a standard for people to meet and surpass in terms of tourism (46).

On Friday, May 27, 2016, the new Ferris wheel, dubbed the “Centennial Wheel” in association with the pier’s anniversary in July 2016, opened to the public, and was advertised as “bigger, taller, faster” by the Chicago Tribune. Tickets sold online were marketed at $15 at the time for the 41 standard gondolas, with other upgrades and packages being sold at higher prices; options for off-season discounts and time frames for free riding received promotion as well (47). In order to improve upon the 1995 wheel, other changes had been made, such as the following facts explained on the Chicago Architecture Foundation website (6):

But the new wheel stops to allow passengers to exit and board each gondola. During this pause, passengers aboard other gondolas can capture views of the city from different heights or interact with a multimedia system that displays facts about the surroundings.

In an article published in the Chicago Tribune on May 27, 2016, Steve Johnson describes his experience on the new Centennial Wheel, while also explaining the history that led to the development of this variant of the invention. In terms of its quality, Johnson states the following, to be taken as a great sign for the tourist attraction and its aforementioned purpose on Navy Pier (48):

It just wants to be a better wheel than was there before, one that’ll give visitors a new thing to do as it justifies its $15 standard ticket price. At that, it seems likely to be a success. (Another sign of success is that officials reported seven people had already contacted them about wanting to use the ride for engagement proposals Saturday.)

Johnson clearly acquires an admirable intuitive sense, as the Centennial Wheel can be seen as a success thus far. As reported in a May 25, 2017 Chicago Tribune article, on the preceding Thursday, the Ferris wheel had reached a milestone: One million passengers. The millionth guest’s prize of “a lifetime pass for free rides, a gift package and free tickets for the local charity of his or her choice” signified a sensible level of celebration, as the 1995 wheel had only received one million riders within a year in 1998. Prices at the time remained somewhat steady throughout the year, as they were $15 per adult, $12 for children ages 3-11, and free for kids under the age of 3 per ride; upgrades and free rides were still offered at accompanying prices and specific times. Some other notable statistics of its successes were boasted to the Chicago Tribune by those representing Navy Pier, including the following (49):

•More than 16,400 free rides since it opened last Memorial Day weekend.

•Nearly 60 percent overall ridership increase compared with the average of the last two years the old Ferris wheel was fully operational, in 2014 and 2015.

•100 free rides for 100 charities will be offered again for Navy Pier’s 101st birthday this year, as they were last year for the 100th birthday celebration.

•More than 50 marriage proposals on the Centennial Wheel.

As such, at least by how the new Ferris wheel has been portrayed to the public, the wheel as an entity is one that is still firmly towering over the city, and proving itself as a tourist attraction to be reckoned with.

The Ferris wheel, as invented by George Washington Gale Ferris and first implemented in 1893, was known as a novelty and a landmark for the World’s Columbian Exposition, to stand against the Eiffel Tower in terms of flair and grandeur; at the present time, its subsequent variations are known as tourist attractions, but still ones of historic significance, to the City of Chicago. Consequently, although the overall intentions of such wheels have changed and developed over time, and despite the constant criticism and negative connotations of the invention-turned-tourist-attraction dished out by both professionals and the public, the Ferris wheel is destined to stand the test of time in Chicago and beyond.

Love it or hate it, the world (and the Ferris wheel, specifically) will keep on spinning.


Here is a bonus for you all: a flattering photograph of me with the Centennial Wheel in June 2016 that I hastily edited, which I definitely did not know was being taken of me at the time. I also surely was not aware that I would conduct research on the history of the wheel a year later, for that matter.

afterlight 21
This filter automatically makes the photo look historic, right? (Sarcasm.)

Images of the various Ferris wheels located in Chicago over time can be found at this location, among others:

Sources
  1. “A GREAT RUSH TO CHICAGO.” New York Times (1857-1922): 2. Jun 22 1893. ProQuest. Web. 10 July 2017. 
  2. “FIGHT FERRIS WHEEL.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 5. Feb 28 1895. ProQuest. Web. 10 July 2017.
  3. “WHEN THE CATS ARE AWAY.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 12. Apr 11 1900. ProQuest. Web. 10 July 2017.
  4. Kendall, Peter, Laurie Cohen, and Phil Vettel. “NAVY PIER REBORN, BUT NEW LOOK HAS ITS PRICE.” Chicago Tribune (pre-1997 Fulltext): 1. Jul 13 1995. ProQuest. Web. 10 July 2017.
  5. “FERRIS’ WHEEL TO BE A FEATURE.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 9. Feb 25 1893. ProQuest. Web. 10 July 2017.
  6. Dumlija, Marko. “Chicago’s Ferris Wheel Story.” Chicago Architecture Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 July 2017.
  7. “TRIAL TRIP OF THE FERRIS WHEEL.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 2. Jun 16 1893. ProQuest. Web. 10 July 2017.
  8. “GREAT FERRIS WHEEL.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 25. Jun 18 1893. ProQuest. Web. 10 July 2017.
  9. Maranzani, Barbara. “Chicago Was Home to a Serial Killer During the 1893 World’s Fair.”History.com. A&E Television Networks, 01 May 2013. Web. 12 July 2017.
  10. “Texas Day Program.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 5. Sep 08 1893. ProQuest. Web. 10 July 2017.
  11. “THE CHILDREN AT THE FAIR.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 4. Oct 17 1893. ProQuest. Web. 10 July 2017.
  12. “LET THE CHILDREN GO TO THE FAIR.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 12. Oct 19 1893. ProQuest. Web. 10 July 2017.
  13. “NOT TO CLOSE OCT. 30.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 1. Oct 19 1893. ProQuest. Web. 10 July 2017.
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  15. “WORLD’S FAIR IS OVER.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 17. Nov 01 1893. ProQuest. Web. 10 July 2017.
  16. “ALL WANTED A WHEEL RIDE.” New York Times (1857-1922): 3. Nov 02 1893. ProQuest. Web. 10 July 2017.
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  24. “TOPICS OF THE TIMES.” New York Times (1857-1922): 4. Nov 24 1896. ProQuest. Web. 10 July 2017.
  25. “BIGGEST SEE-SAW IN THE WORLD.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 3. May 02 1897. ProQuest. Web. 10 July 2017.
  26. “PRINCE STARTS FOR THE WEST.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 8. Aug 03 1898. ProQuest. Web. 10 July 2017.
  27. “Gigantic Umbrella for St. Louis.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 39. Mar 23 1902. ProQuest. Web. 10 July 2017.
  28. A, STAFF C. “ST. LOUIS FAIR A GRAND SHOW.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922): 2. Jan 24 1904. ProQuest. Web. 10 July 2017.
  29. Grossman, Ron. “History of the Ferris Wheel; 1893 Original Was Taller than Navy Pier’s.”Chicago Tribune 15 May 2016, News sec.: n. page. Chicago Tribune. Tribune Media, 15 May 2016. Web. 12 July 2017.
  30. Patrick T Reardon Urban, affairs writer. “Accent Will be on Fun in $150 Million Navy Pier Rehab.” Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file): 2. Mar 06 1992. ProQuest. Web. 10 July 2017.
  31. Pick, Grant. “NAVY PIER’S REBIRTH WILL THE PLACE LIVE UP TO THE PROMISES?” Chicago Tribune (pre-1997 Fulltext): 14. May 21 1995. ProQuest. Web. 11 July 2017.
  32. Sammons, Mary B. “A King of Carny Jeff Blomsness is Not just Along for the Ride.” Chicago Tribune (pre-1997 Fulltext): 1. Sep 06 1992. ProQuest. Web. 11 July 2017.
  33. Orr, Richard. “FERRIS WHEEL FANS CAN HAVE HIGH HOPES FOR CENTENNIAL EXHIBIT AT FAIR.” Chicago Tribune (pre-1997 Fulltext): 3. Jul 12 1993. ProQuest. Web. 11 July 2017.
  34. Handley, John. “PIER PLEASURE PUBLIC PROJECT, TO WORK, NEEDS YEAR-ROUND LURES.” Chicago Tribune (pre-1997 Fulltext): 1. Aug 29 1993. ProQuest. Web. 11 July 2017.
  35. Preston, Rohan B. “Navy Pier Center Opens in Chicago.” New York Times (1923-Current file): 1. Aug 06 1995. ProQuest. Web. 11 July 2017.
  36. Bils, Jeffrey. “KIDS’ MUSEUM LOUDLY REOPENS ON NAVY PIER.” Chicago Tribune (pre-1997 Fulltext): 2. Oct 08 1995. ProQuest. Web. 11 July 2017.
  37. Ford, Elise. “Area Travelers’ U.S. Favorites.” The Washington Post: E02. Sep 13 1998. ProQuest. Web. 11 July 2017.
  38. Voedisch, Lynn. “DOCKING AT NAVY PIER WHAT TO SEE AND DO AT CHICAGO’S TOURISM SHOWCASE.” Chicago Tribune: 1. Jun 21 1999. ProQuest. Web. 11 July 2017.
  39. Moseley, Ray. “LONDON’S EYE TO BE FERRIS OF THEM ALL.” Chicago Tribune: 1. Sep 01 1999. ProQuest. Web. 11 July 2017.
  40. Bergen, Kathy. “Picture Ferris Wheel, Except Twice as Tall.” Chicago Tribune: 1. Sep 13 2008. ProQuest. Web. 11 July 2017.
  41. Kamin, Blair. “New Renovation Plan Needs overall Vision.” Chicago Tribune: 4. Nov 10 2010. ProQuest. Web. 11 July 2017.
  42. Johnson, Steve. “Pier is Ready to Set Wheel in Motion.” Chicago Tribune: 1. May 25 2016. ProQuest. Web. 11 July 2017.
  43. Kamin, Blair, and Meredith Rodriguez. “Chicago to Replace Navy Pier Ferris Wheel with Taller One.” Chicago Tribune. Tribune Media, 23 June 2015. Web. 12 July 2017.
  44. Freishtat, Sarah. “1 LAST RIDE ON WHEEL.” Chicago Tribune: 8. Sep 28 2015. ProQuest. Web. 11 July 2017.
  45. McCall, Matt. “Branson New Home of Old Navy Pier Ferris Wheel.” Chicago Tribune: 4. Jan 31 2016. ProQuest. Web. 11 July 2017.
  46. Editorial Board. “From the Ferris Wheel to ‘The Skyline’: How Would You Ignite Chicago Tourism?” Editorial. Chicago Tribune 22 May 2016, News sec.: n. pag. Chicago Tribune. Tribune Media, 20 May 2016. Web. 12 July 2017.
  47. Johnson, Steve. “Navy Pier’s New Ferris Wheel — Bigger, Taller, Faster.” Chicago Tribune 25 May 2016, Arts + Entertainment sec.: n. page. Chicago Tribune. Tribune Media, 24 May 2016. Web. 12 July 2017.
  48. Johnson, Steve. “The New Wheel Deal.” Chicago Tribune: 1. May 27 2016. ProQuest. Web. 11 July 2017.
  49. Vivanco, Leonor. “Navy Pier’s Ferris Wheel Reaches 1 Million Rides.” Chicago Tribune. Tribune Media, 25 May 2017. Web. 12 July 2017.
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6 thoughts on “The Ferris Wheel: A Perpetual Chicago Staple

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