On June 21, 1893, the world's first Ferris wheel, named after its designer George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., debuted at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The largest attraction at that year's World's Fair, the 264-foot tall observation wheel was Chicago's answer to the Paris Eiffel Tower, which had been the rage at the World's Fair four years earlier.
Ferris' observation wheel operated in Chicago from 1895 to 1903. It was dismantled in 1904 and transported to St. Louis, where it spun from April to December of that year as part of that city's World's Fair.
Although the original Ferris wheel was demolished in 1906, observation wheels have been a regular fairground attraction for the past century. In recent history, however, Ferris wheels have become common fixtures on city skylines. London started the trend with its Millennium Wheel, also known as the London Eye, which was (when it was erected in 1999) the tallest Ferris wheel in the world. Since then has come the High Roller observation wheel in Las Vegas and the current record holder.
Are all these modern-day Ferris wheels nostalgia for a simpler time, or merely a desire to get high above the streets for a better view of the city? No matter the reason, here are five Ferris wheels that offer amazing city views -- or, at least, provide a few moments of calm above the hectic world below.
Spinning year-round (weather permitting) since 1995, the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel in Chicago is modeled after Ferris's original wheel. It currently costs $1 per minute (7 minutes) to ride on the 40-gondola wheel, which provides views of the iconic Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan.
One of the newer and more exciting attractions on the Las Vegas Strip is the High Roller, erected in 2016. Currently, the world's tallest Ferris wheel, the High Roller has 28 glass-enclosed, temperature-controlled cabins, each of which can hold about 40 people.
AddressSeattle Great Wheel, Seattle, WA 98101, USA
Wait for a clear day -- or night -- to ride the Seattle Great Wheel, which is open year-round. The largest Ferris wheel on the West Coast, the 175-foot-tall Great Wheel has views of downtown Seattle, the Space Needle, Mount Rainier, and (if you go at dusk when all the other tourists do) a killer western sunset.
The Capital Wheel at National Harbor, a conference center-cum-entertainment complex on the Occoquan Waterfront a few minutes south of DC, has been described as underwhelming and overpriced. But the 180-foot-tall, 42-car wheel provides DC visitors a high perch from which to observe the Capital region, mostly suburban Maryland, Virginia, and glimmers of the U.S. Capitol and Washington Monument.
Coming Soon to New York and Orlando
At least two more Ferris Wheels are in the works:
- The Orlando Eye promises to be tallest Ferris wheel in the World when it is completed. According to local Orlando news, the observation wheel will anchor a complex called the I-Drive 360 at the Orlando Eye and will offer views of the theme parks in the area, including Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World.
- By the time it opens (timeline TBD), the New York Wheel will surpass the High Roller as the largest wheel in the land, rising to a whopping 630 feet and accommodating as many as 1,440 passengers at a time. The New York Wheel will be located on the northeastern side of Staten Island and have views of lower Manhattan, Brooklyn, and New York Harbor.