Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A Ferris wheel is an amusement ride consisting of an upright wheel with passenger gondolas suspended from the rim. It is named after George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., who designed a 75-meter (250-foot) wheel for the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. It was designed as a rival to the Eiffel Tower, the centerpiece of the 1889 Paris exhibition. This first wheel weighed 2200 tons and could carry 2160 persons at a time; its axle was the largest piece of steel cast to date. At 26 stories it was four stories taller than the tallest skyscraper in the world—also in Chicago—but only a quarter of the Eiffel Tower's height. It was reused at the St. Louis World's Fair.
London, UK had its very own 'Gigantic Wheel' built at Earls Court in 1895, which was modelled on the original one in Chicago. This wheel stayed in service until 1906 by which time it had carried over 2.5 million passengers.
At 212 feet (65 meters), The Texas Star at Fair Park is the largest ferris wheel in the Western Hemisphere. The wheel opened in 1985 and has a maximum capacity of 260 persons. Sky Dream Fukuoka, at 112 meters, is the largest Ferris wheel in the world.
The earliest ancestor of the Ferris wheel is the Ups-and-Downs, a crude, hand-turned device, which dates back at least to the 17th century and is still in use in some parts of the world.
Ferris wheels are often confused with observation wheels, of which the London Eye is currently the largest example in the world. Although they are superficially similar, they differ in a number of important respects, most notably in that the passenger cars are not suspended from the wheel's circumference but are mounted on its exterior. This requires them to be stabilised mechanically, making observation wheels much more technically complex than Ferris wheels.
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