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Life Is Like A Ferris Wheel
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© Christine Till
Ferris wheels have the innate ability to remind us of revolutionary times. Society was changing and culture was evolving, all while industry was making its way into large cities.
These changes brought the evolution of the Ferris wheel - a structural upright wheel with gondola like seats. The first Ferris wheel ever seen by the public was at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The Ferris wheel was designed by George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. who graduated from the prestigious Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Ferris' wheel rivaled the Eiffel Tower, the centerpiece of the 1889 Paris Exposition. Ferris' famous first wheel stood 250 feet tall, held 36 gondola's, and was powered by two steam engines. It took a mind-boggling 20 minutes for the wheel to make two revolutions. When the Columbian Exposition ended, the wheel was moved to the St. Louis 1904 World's Fair.
When George Ferris built his first wheel he probably never dreamed of the trend he was starting. He didn't live to see the advent of his machine's offspring - the first roller coaster, ancestor of the high-tech speed thrillers dominating today's fairs and amusement parks. However, Ferris saw that his great wheel did much more than just compete with the Eiffel Tower. It really did thrust the rider "out into the sky, for the outward curve down" for a mind-boggling vision of reality. Ferris soon took the outward curve down himself, dying the night of Nov. 21, 1896 in Pittsburgh's Mercy Hospital, just 37 years old, a lonely, bankrupt, sickly and broken man, with no one at his side. The original Ferris Wheel soon followed him. The wheel was dynamited on May 11, 1906.
Curiously, it was the French who paid George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. the ultimate posthumous compliment. When planning got under way for the Paris Exposition of 1900, the French decided they wanted a Ferris Wheel of their own, just like George's. The French engineers were given a copy of Ferris's original schematics and reconstructed his Ferris Wheel down to the last rivet. The dead inventor's soaring, shocking technological answer to the Eiffel Tower dazzled France, and dazzled Europe. Today the term Ferris wheel has since been generalized to mean any passenger car spinning wheel ride.
February 26th, 2013
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