Ferris Wheels of the World

Who can forget Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton making lazy circles in the sky aboard Vienna’s famed Ferris Wheel while discussing the rights and wrongs of adulterating penicillin? The Third Man gave a glimpse of what was, at the time, the largest Ferris Wheel in the world.

Built to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Emperor Franz Josef I, it originally had 30 passenger cars rising to a height of 212 ft above the Praterpark. Slated for demolition in 19156, it received a reprieve due to lack of funds.It burnt down in 1944, but was rebuilt a year later with only 15 passenger cars.  For nearly 100 years it was the world’s tallest wheel.All good things come to an end, and in 1985, the Japanese constructed a 279 ftwheel for the Expo at Tsukuba, Japan.


Other Ferris Wheels, before and since, have laid claim to the title of the world’s tallest. That honor was held from 1895-1900by the Great Wheel at Earls Court, London which stood 310 feet high, topping the original Ferris Wheel built  in 1893 for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois, by some 46 feet.

Paris took over for a while with the Grande Roue de Paris, built for the Exposition Universelle of 1900.  Its 328 feet was the tallest for almost 90 years until the Cosmo Clock 21 was built in 1989 for the an Exposition in Yokohama, Japan.

After that the records fell fast. Not to be outdone, Osaka opened the Tempozan Ferris Wheel, in July 1997, which is 41 feet taller.  Still in Japan, the stakes were increased with the construction of the 377 foot tall Daikanransha in Odaiba.

In 2000, London got in on the act again to celebrate the millennium with the 443 foot tall London Eye, which is still the tallest Ferris Wheel in the Western hemisphere.  Asia, however has stepped into the contest: the Star of Nanchang, in Jiangxi Province, China, is an impressive 525 feet tall, but the crown goes to the Singapore Flyer which opened in March of 2008.  The brave souls who ride it soar to 541 feet (about 42 stories) above the ground.

The ferris wheel was invented by a 32-year old American engineer, one George Ferris.  The first one was built for the world exhibition in Chicago in 1893, and was inspired by the merry-go-round turned on its side.The Chicago wheel was not small: 88 meter high and it could carry over 2000 passengers at a time.

With all these amazing numbers and increasingly astonishing heights, one of the most popular Ferris Wheels in the world remains that in Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens.  Less than 60 feet in height with only 18 gondolas and seating for 108, this is a puny wheel.  Nevertheless, a half million people visit this iconic ride every year.  That makes it, relatively speaking, one of the most popular rides in the world.  That and the Ferris Wheel which comes to a park near you for a few days each summer.  What fun!


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