A Ferris wheel (sometimes called a big wheel, observation wheel, or, in the case of the very tallest examples, giant wheel) is a nonbuilding structure consisting of a rotating upright wheel with multiple passenger-carrying components (commonly referred to as passenger cars, cabins, capsules, gondolas, or pods) attached to the rim in such a way that as the wheel turns, they are kept upright, usually by gravity.
- Early history
- Somers Wheel
- The original Ferris Wheel
- Antique Ferris wheels
- Worlds tallest Ferris wheels
- Future wheels
- Construction begun
- Construction not begun
- Observation wheels
- Transportable wheels
- Double and triple wheels
- Eccentric wheels
- Major designers manufacturers and operators
Some of the largest modern Ferris wheels have cars mounted on the outside of the rim, with electric motors to independently rotate each car to keep it upright. These wheels are sometimes referred to as observation wheels and their cars referred to as capsules, however these alternative names are also used for wheels with conventional gravity-oriented cars.
The original Ferris Wheel was designed and constructed by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. as a landmark for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The generic term Ferris wheel is now used for all such structures, which have become the most common type of amusement ride at state fairs in the United States.
Since the original 1893 Chicago Ferris wheel there have been nine world's tallest-ever Ferris wheels. The current record holder is the 167.6-metre (550 ft) High Roller in Las Vegas, US, which opened to the public in March 2014.
"Pleasure wheels", whose passengers rode in chairs suspended from large wooden rings turned by strong men, may have originated in 17th-century Bulgaria.
The travels of Peter Mundy in Europe and Asia, 1608–1667 describes and illustrates "severall Sorts of Swinginge used in their Publique rejoyceings att their Feast of Biram" on 17 May 1620 at Philippopolis in the Ottoman Balkans. Among means "lesse dangerous and troublesome" was one:
...like a Craine wheele att Customhowse Key and turned in that Manner, whereon Children sitt on little seats hunge round about in severall parts thereof, And though it turne right upp and downe, and that the Children are sometymes on the upper part of the wheele, and sometymes on the lower, yett they alwaies sitt upright.
Five years earlier, in 1615, Pietro Della Valle, a Roman traveller who sent letters from Constantinople, Persia, and India, attended a Ramadan festival in Constantinople. He describes the fireworks, floats, and great swings, then comments on riding the Great Wheel:
I was delighted to find myself swept upwards and downwards at such speed. But the wheel turned round so rapidly that a Greek who was sitting near me couldn't bear it any longer, and shouted out "soni! soni!" (enough! enough!)
Similar wheels also appeared in England in the 17th century, and subsequently elsewhere around the world, including India, Romania, and Siberia.
A Frenchman, Antonio Manguino, introduced the idea to America in 1848, when he constructed a wooden pleasure wheel to attract visitors to his start-up fair in Walton Spring, Georgia.
A much earlier description of a Ferris-type wheel can be seen in The Death of Arthur, a volume of the Vulgate Cycle dating from around 1220. The text describes King Arthur in a dream being approached by Fortuna and placed upon the Wheel of Fortune. Although the description is fictional, it is likely to be based upon real observations of a Ferris-type wheel:
When (King Arthur) fell asleep it seemed like the most beautiful lady in the world appeared … and there she sat him on a wheel. The wheel had seats, some of which rose as others sank. The king saw that his was in the highest position … “This is the Wheel of Fortune," she said...
In 1892, William Somers installed three fifty-foot wooden wheels at Asbury Park, New Jersey; Atlantic City, New Jersey; and Coney Island, New York. The following year he was granted the first U.S. patent for a "Roundabout". George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. rode on Somers' wheel in Atlantic City prior to designing his wheel for the World's Columbian Exposition. In 1893 Somers filed a lawsuit against Ferris for patent infringement, however 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 Ferris Wheel
The original Ferris Wheel, sometimes also referred to as the Chicago Wheel, was designed and constructed by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr..
With a height of 80.4 metres (264 ft) it was the largest attraction at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois, where it opened to the public on June 21, 1893. It was intended to rival the 324-metre (1,063 ft) Eiffel Tower, the centerpiece of the 1889 Paris Exposition.
Ferris was a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, bridge-builder. He began his career in the railroad industry and then pursued an interest in bridge building. Ferris understood the growing need for structural steel and founded G.W.G. Ferris & Co. in Pittsburgh, a firm that tested and inspected metals for railroads and bridge builders.
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.
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. The wheel carried some 38,000 passengers daily and took 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.
The Exposition ended in October 1893, and the wheel closed in April 1894 and was dismantled and stored until the following year. It was then rebuilt on Chicago's North Side, near Lincoln Park, next to an exclusive neighborhood. This prompted William D. Boyce, then a local resident, to file a Circuit Court action against the owners of the wheel to have it removed, but without success. 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 and finally destroyed by controlled demolition using dynamite on May 11, 1906.
Antique Ferris wheels
The Wiener Riesenrad (German for "Viennese Giant Wheel") is a surviving example of nineteenth-century Ferris wheels. Erected in 1897 in the Wurstelprater section of Prater public park in the Leopoldstadt district of Vienna, Austria, to celebrate Emperor Franz Josef I's Golden Jubilee, it has a height of 64.75 metres (212 ft) and originally had 30 passenger cars. A demolition permit for the Riesenrad was issued in 1916, but due to a lack of funds with which to carry out the destruction, it survived.
Following the demolition of the 100-metre (328 ft) Grande Roue de Paris in 1920, the Riesenrad became the world's tallest extant Ferris wheel. In 1944 it burnt down, but was rebuilt the following year with 15 passenger cars, and remained the world's tallest extant wheel until its 97th year, when the 85-metre (279 ft) Technocosmos was constructed for Expo '85, at Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.
Still in operation today, it is one of Vienna's most popular tourist attractions, and over the years has featured in numerous films (including Madame Solange d`Atalide (1914), Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), The Third Man (1949), The Living Daylights (1987), Before Sunrise (1995)) and novels.
World's tallest Ferris wheels
Chronology of world's tallest-ever wheels
Following the huge success of the 135-metre (443 ft) London Eye since it opened in 2000, giant Ferris wheels have been proposed for many other world-class cities, however a large number of these projects have stalled or failed.
Construction in progress
Construction not begun
Incomplete, delayed, stalled, cancelled, failed, or abandoned proposals:
Nippon Moon, described as a "giant observation wheel" by its designers, was reported in September 2013 to be "currently in development". At that time, its height was "currently undisclosed", but "almost twice the scale of the wheel in London." Its location, an unspecified Japanese city, was "currently under wraps", and its funding had "yet to be entirely secured." Commissioned by Ferris Wheel Investment Co., Ltd., and designed by UNStudio in collaboration with Arup, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and Experientia, it was expected to have 32 individually themed capsules and take 40 minutes to rotate once.
The Shanghai Star, initially planned as a 200-metre (656 ft) tall wheel to be built by 2005, was revised to 170 metres (558 ft), with a completion date set in 2007, but then cancelled in 2006 due to "political incorrectness". An earlier proposal for a 250-metre (820 ft) structure, the Shanghai Kiss, with capsules ascending and descending a pair of towers which met at their peaks instead of a wheel, was deemed too expensive at £100m.
Rus-3000, a 170-metre (558 ft) wheel planned to open in 2004 in Moscow, has since been reported cancelled. Subsequently, an approximately 180-metre (591 ft) wheel was considered for Gorky Central Park of Culture and Leisure, and a 150-metre (492 ft) wheel proposed for location near Sparrow Hills. Another giant wheel planned for Prospekt Vernadskogo for 2002 was also never built.
Observation wheel is an alternative name for Ferris wheel. In 1892, when the incorporation papers for the Ferris Wheel Company (constructors of the original 1893 Chicago Ferris Wheel) were filed, the purpose of the company was stated as: [construction and operation of] "...wheels of the Ferris or other types for the purpose of observation or amusement".
Some Ferris wheels are marketed as observation wheels, any distinction between the two names being at the discretion of the operator, however the wheels whose operators reject the term Ferris wheel are often those having most in common with the original 1893 Chicago Ferris Wheel, especially in terms of scale and being an iconic landmark for a city or event.
Wheels with passenger cars mounted external to the rim and independently rotated by electric motors, as opposed to wheels with cars suspended from the rim and kept upright by gravity, are those most commonly referred to as observation wheels, and their cars are often referred to as capsules. However, these alternative names are also sometimes used for wheels with conventional gravity-oriented cars.
Only four Ferris wheels with motorised capsules have ever been built.
The 167.6 m (550 ft) High Roller, world's tallest since March 2014, has externally mounted motorised capsules of a transparent spherical design, and is described as both a Ferris wheel and an observation wheel by the media.
The 165 m (541 ft) Singapore Flyer has cylindrical externally mounted motorised capsules and is described as an observation wheel by its operators, but was also credited as "world's largest Ferris wheel" by the media when it opened in 2008.
The 135 m (443 ft) London Eye, typically described as a "giant Ferris wheel" by the media, has ovoidal externally mounted motorised capsules and is the "world's tallest cantilevered observation wheel" according to its operators, who claim "The London Eye is often mistakenly called a Ferris wheel. This is not the case: first, the passenger capsules are completely enclosed and are climate controlled; secondly, the capsules are positioned on the outside of the wheel structure and are fully motorised; and third, the entire structure is supported by an A-frame on one side only." However the Singapore Flyer subsequently billed itself as the "world's largest observation wheel", despite being supported on both sides, and the official londoneye.com website also refers to the London Eye as "Europe's tallest Ferris wheel".
The 120 m (394 ft) Melbourne Star (previously the Southern Star) in Australia has ovoidal externally mounted motorised capsules and is described by its operators as "the only observation wheel in the southern hemisphere", but also as a Ferris wheel by the media.
Official conceptual renderings of the proposed 190.5 m (625 ft) New York Wheel, due to begin construction in 2015, also show a wheel equipped with externally mounted motorised capsules.
Transportable Ferris wheels are designed to be operated at multiple locations, as opposed to fixed wheels which are usually intended for permanent installation. Small transportable designs may be permanently mounted on trailers, and can be moved intact. Larger transportable wheels are designed to be repeatedly dismantled and rebuilt, some using water ballast instead of the permanent foundations of their fixed counterparts.
Fixed wheels are also sometimes dismantled and relocated. Larger examples include the original Ferris Wheel, which operated at two sites in Chicago, Illinois, and a third in St. Louis, Missouri; Technocosmos/Technostar, which moved to Expoland, Osaka, after Expo '85, Tsukuba, Ibaraki, for which it was built, ended; and Cosmo Clock 21, which added 5 metres (16 ft) onto its original 107.5-metre (353 ft) height when erected for the second time at Minato Mirai 21, Yokohama, in 1999.
The world's tallest transportable wheel today is the 78-metre (256 ft) Bussink Design R80XL.
One of the most famous transportable wheels is the 60-metre (197 ft) Roue de Paris, originally installed on the Place de la Concorde in Paris for the 2000 millennium celebrations. Roue de Paris left France in 2002 and in 2003–04 operated in Birmingham and Manchester, England. In 2005 it visited first Geleen then Amsterdam, Netherlands, before returning to England to operate at Gateshead. In 2006 it was erected at the Suan Lum Night Bazaar in Bangkok, Thailand, and by 2008 had made its way to Antwerp, Belgium.
Roue de Paris is a Ronald Bussink series R60 design using 40,000 litres (8,800 imperial gallons; 11,000 US gallons) of water ballast to provide a stable base. The R60 weighs 365 tonnes (402 short tons), and can be erected in 72 hours and dismantled in 60 hours by a specialist team. Transport requires seven 20-foot container lorries, ten open trailer lorries, and one closed trailer lorry. Its 42-passenger cars can be loaded either 3 or 6 at a time, and each car can carry 8 people. Bussink R60 wheels have operated in Australia (Brisbane), Canada (Niagara Falls), France (Paris), Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur & Malacca), UK (Belfast, Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield), US (Atlanta, Myrtle Beach), and elsewhere.
Other notable transportable wheels include the 60-metre (197 ft) Steiger Ferris Wheel, which was the world's tallest transportable wheel when it began operating in 1980. It has 42 passenger cars, and weighs 450 tons. On October 11, 2010, it collapsed at the Kramermarkt in Oldenburg, Germany, during deconstruction.
Double and triple wheels
In March 1966, Thomas Glen Robinson and Ralph G. Robinson received a patent for a ride they developed, called a Planetary Amusement Ride.
Robinson sold two of these rides – Astrowheel, which operated at the former Six Flags Astroworld, Houston, Texas, from 1968 until 1980, and Galaxy, which operated at Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia, California. Both were manufactured by Astron International Corporation.
Swiss manufacturer Intamin produced a similar series of rides comprising a vertical column supporting multiple horizontal arms, with each arm supporting a Ferris wheel. The first Intamin produced was Giant Wheel at Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Others include Zodiac (Kings Island, Mason, Ohio), and Scorpion (Parque de la Ciudad, Buenos Aires, Argentina).
A triple variant was custom designed for the Marriott Corporation, each ride had three main components: the wheels with their passenger cars; a set of supporting arms; and a single central supporting column. Each wheel rotated about the end of its own supporting arm. The arms in turn would either pivot or rotate together as a single unit about the top of the supporting column. The axis about which the rotating arms turned was offset from vertical, so that as the arms rotated, each arm and its corresponding wheel was raised and lowered. This allowed one wheel to be horizontal at ground level, and brought to a standstill for simultaneous loading and unloading of all its passenger cars, while the other wheel(s) continued to rotate vertically at considerable height.
Sky Whirl was the world's first triple Ferris wheel, debuting at both Marriott's Great America parks (now Six Flags Great America, Gurnee, Illinois, and California's Great America, Santa Clara) in 1976. Also known as a triple Ferris wheel, Triple Giant Wheel, or Triple Tree Wheel, it was 33 metres (108 ft) in height. The Santa Clara ride, renamed Triple Wheel in post-Marriott years, closed on 1 September 1997. The Gurnee ride closed in 2000.
An eccentric wheel (sometimes called a sliding wheel or coaster wheel) differs from a conventional Ferris wheel in that some or all of its passenger cars are not fixed directly to the rim of the wheel, but instead slide on rails between the rim and the hub as the wheel rotates.
The two most famous eccentric wheels are Wonder Wheel, at Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, Coney Island, US, and Mickey's Fun Wheel (previously Sun Wheel), at Disney California Adventure Park, US. The latter is a replica of the former. There is a second replica in Yokohama, Japan.
Mickey's Fun Wheel is 48.8 metres (160 ft) tall and has 24 fully enclosed passenger cars, each able to carry 6 passengers. 16 of the cars slide inward and outward as the wheel rotates, the remainder are fixed to the rim. There are separate boarding queues for sliding and fixed cars, so that passengers may choose between the two. Inspired by Coney Island's 1920 Wonder Wheel, it was designed by Walt Disney Imagineering and Waagner Biro, completed in 2001 as the Sun Wheel, and later refurbished and reopened in 2009 as Mickey's Fun Wheel.
Wonder Wheel was built in 1920, is 45.7 metres (150 ft) tall, and can carry 144 people.
Major designers, manufacturers, and operators
Allan Herschell Company (merged with Chance Rides in 1970)
Chance Morgan / Chance Rides / Chance Wheels / Chance American Wheels
Great Wheel Corporation (merged with World Tourist Attractions in 2009 to form Great City Attractions)
Intamin / Waagner-Biro (Rides brokered by Intamin — manufactured by Waagner-Biro)
Mir / Pax
Ronald Bussink (formerly Nauta Bussink; then Ronald Bussink Professional Rides; then Bussink Landmarks since 2008)Wheels of Excellence range (sold to Vekoma in 2008) has included:
Sanoyas Rides Corporation (has built more than 80 Ferris wheels)