George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.

George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.

George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. (February 14, 1859 - November 22, 1896) invented the Ferris wheel, for the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in an attempt to create something as impressive as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.


He was born in Galesburg, Illinois and his family sold their dairy farm and moved to Carson City, Nevada when Ferris was five years old. His family later relocated to California, and Ferris attended high school in Oakland, California. He graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he was a Charter Member of the Chi Phi Fraternity, in the class of 1881 with a degree in Civil Engineering. After that, he began a career in the railroad industry and was interested in bridge building. He founded a company, G.W.G. Ferris & Co. in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to test and inspect metals for railroads and bridge builders.

News of the World's Columbian Exhibition to be held in 1893, in Chicago, Illinois, drew Ferris to the city. In 1891, the directors of the World's Columbian Exposition issued a challenge to American engineers to conceive of a monument for the fair that would surpass the Eiffel Tower, the great structure of the Paris International Exposition of 1889. [cite web | title =Doodles Drafts and Designs | work =Industrial Drawings from the Smithsonian | publisher =Smithsonian Institute Libraries | date = | url = | format = | doi = | accessdate =2007-12-22] The planners wanted something "original, daring and unique." Ferris responded with a proposed wheel from which visitors would be able to view the entire exhibition. Ferris' project was so grandiose, he was quickly dismissed as unrealistic.

Ferris persisted, he returned in a few weeks with several respectable endorsements from established engineers, and the committee agreed to allow construction to begin. Most convincingly, he had recruited several local investors to cover the $400,000 cost of construction.

The wheel became an instant success when the fair opened. It is estimated that Ferris' wheel carried 1-1/2 million visitors, each paying 50 cents for a 20-minute ride. After the fair closed, Ferris claims that the Exhibition management had robbed him and his investors of their rightful portion of the nearly $750,000 profit that his wheel brought in. He spent the next two years in litigation.cite web
title =George W. Ferris
work =Inventor of the Week
publisher =Lemelson-MIT Program
date =May 1996
quote =George Washington Gale Ferris was born in Galesburg, Illinois in 1859 and he and his family moved to Nevada when Ferris was five years old. He attended high school in Oakland, California before enrolling at Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute in Troy, New York, where he graduated in 1881 with a degree in engineering. Ferris found civil engineering work in Pittsburgh, where he specialized in constructing steel frameworks for bridges and tunnels.
url =
accessdate =2007-12-22

His father died in 1895. He died on November 22, 1896 at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania of typhoid fever. [cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Inventor Ferris is Dead. The Man Who Built the Great Wheel for the World's Fair. |url= |quote=George W. G. Ferris, the inventor and builder of the Ferris wheel, died to-day at Mercy Hospital, where he had been treated for typhoid fever for a week. The disease is said to have been brought on through worry over numerous business matters. He leaves a wife in this city, and friends in mechanical and building circles all over the country. |publisher=New York Times |date=November 23, 1896 |accessdate=2008-06-07 ] [cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=George W. Ferris |url= |quote=George W. Ferris, who conceived and built the World-famous Ferris wheel died at Mercy Hospital in this city at 11 O'clock this morning of typhoid fever. His illness was brief, and it was only Friday that he was taken to... |publisher=Los Angeles Times |date= |accessdate=2008-06-07 ] His ashes remained at a Pittsburgh crematorium for over a year, waiting for someone to take possession of them. [cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Ashes of George W.G. Ferris. Report that a Pittsburg Undertaker is Holding Them for Payment of Funeral Expenses. |url= |quote= |publisher=New York Times |date=March 8, 1898, Wednesday |accessdate=2008-06-07 ] Some of his descendants today are Jody Earle of Freeville, New York, Marilyn Meade of Ithaca, New York, Cheryl Heck of Austin, Texas, Alan Henrikson of Wellesley, Massachusetts, Mary Runneberg of Laurens, Iowa, Jeffrey E. Ferris of Skaneateles, NY and Jane Mack of Dallas, Texas, Benjamin Ferris Foster of Suttons Bay, Michigan.


*George W.G. Ferris is a member of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Alumni Hall of Fame, inducted in September, 1998.cite web
title =Alumni Hall of Fame
publisher =Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
url =
quote=Ferris began his career in the railroad industry and pursued an interest in bridge building.
accessdate =2007-12-22
*The family house in Carson City is on the historic tour list.

Ferris wheel

The Ferris wheel is a large amusement ride that is made of a giant, vertical, metal wheel that slowly turns around. The wheel is equipped with hanging compartments for people, who ride around in a circle, going far above the ground. The first Ferris wheel was opened on June 21, 1893 at the Chicago World's Fair. This Ferris wheel was convert|265|ft|m tall - this is about the height of a 25 story building. It had 36 wooden cars that could each seat 40 people, and hold another 20 standing people plus a conductor. Each car was convert|27|ft|m long, convert|13|ft|m wide, and convert|9|ft|m tall. A total of 2000 people could ride the wheel at one time. The wheel was powered by two convert|1000|hp engines and weighed over 4,000 tons. It cost 50 cents per ride. This same Ferris wheel was later used at the St. Louis exposition in 1904, but was scrapped in 1906. Ferris wheels are now common at amusement parks around the world - most are much smaller than the original.


External links

* [ Inventor of the Week]
* [ Ferris on the RPI Hall of Fame]

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