The Puzzler question for February was: Who or what at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 was the most popular attraction?
As you can see, it was the giant Ferris Wheel on the Midway of the Fair. Congratulations to all of you who suggested that it was.
There was growing sentiment around 1890 that it would be great to build a structure that would outdo Paris’ Eiffel Tower. There was hope for “something novel, original, daring and unique to be designed and built so that American engineers would retain their prestige and standing.” A young, 32 year-old engineer, George Washington Gale Ferris was contracted to design and build the structure for the Fair. It was later found that he had designed just such a wheel five or six years before that, but it had never been built. So the Chicago wheel would be the first in history. And it was huge. According to the Hyde Park Historical Society, the axle weighed 89,320 pounds and was 45.5 feet long and 33 inches in diameter. The axle would sit on two towers, 140 feet high. The passenger cars were each 24 feet long, 13 feet wide and 10 feet high and weighed 26,000 pounds each. Each car would hold 38 pasengers seated and 60 total.
The day of the grand opening was clear and bright as Mrs. Ferris handed her husband “a golden whistle to signal the start of the Wheel.” The Hyde Park Historical Society’s newsletter states, “On a clear day, patrons could not only see the Fairgrounds and the City, but miles out onto the lake and the surrounding states of Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan.”
The Wheel’s popularity was never challenged and had as many as 34,433 riders in a single day.