In 1890, the US Congress decided that the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America should be centered in Chicago. In October, 1890, preparations were started for this great event, known as the World’s Columbian Exposition.

One of the most prestigious plans for this Exposition came from a man called George Ferris, a 32 year old engineer. After completion of the design for the wheel and finding financing, Ferris presented his plans to the organizing committee and was treated as a lunatic. However, Ferris persisted and was granted the concession in December 1892, just 4 months before opening of the Exposition. The Ferris Wheel Company was to retain $300,000 received from the sale of tickets, after which one-half of the gross receipts were to be paid to the Exposition. Ferris quickly let contracts to several specialized companies.

Construction was not easy, as it was a harsh winter in Chicago, so for the opening on May 1 1893, the wheel was not yet finished. By June 9, the Wheel was ready for a first test run and when Ferris heard that the test was succesful, he immediately ordered the 36 cars hung.

Then, on June 21st, Ferris officially opened the wheel to the public and the Wheel ran without problems until November 6, 1893. Attendance was nearly as good on bad weather days than it was on good days, so it seems the Wheel itself was more of an attraction the the unprecedented view it offered.

By November 6th, 1,453,611 paid admissions had been received. The gross earnings were $726,805, of which $513,403 was retained by the company, giving them a profit of $395,000.

The Wheel’s end came on the morning of May 11, 1906 after being so familiar to Chicago and St. Louis and to millions of amusement seekers from all over the world, who, in the days when it was in operation, made the trip to the top of its height of 264 feet.

The wheel had been the wonder of two continents by reason of its cost and its dimensions. It was the rival of the Eiffel Tower of Paris.
Ferris and his great wheel were gone but he had left, as a legacy to generations of entertainment-seekers, the World’s Greatest Ride.

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