Tuesday, February 14, 2023



I’m a big fan of Ferris wheels. That is, as long as my feet are solid on the ground.

Once upon a time, I happily rode the giant wheel at our local county fair. 

Round and round we’d go, swinging our seat and giggling with glee.

The best part? Stopping at the top, especially at night, and enjoying the bright lights of the midway.

I can’t pinpoint the moment in my grown-up years when a Ferris wheel instilled fear in my heart instead of fun in my soul.

However, I’m happy to celebrate National Ferris Wheel Day to commemorate all those exciting childhood round-and-round rides.

The Original Ferris Wheel

On this Valentine’s Day in 1859, dairy farmers George and Martha Ferris of Galesburg, Illinois welcomed their second son into the world. They named their infant George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.

Trivia ~ The town of Galesburg was named for George Washington Gale. The George Ferris father-son duo were named after this man.

Fast-forward to 1893. 

George Washington Gale, Jr.

Chicago is slated to host the World’s Columbian Exposition, a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s famous westward voyage. The planners challenged American engineers to create a monument that would rival the Eiffel Tower. 

That structural marvel had been erected in Paris the year before.

Thirty-four-year-old George, Jr., a civil engineer, accepted this difficult challenge. He sketched designs on a napkins, gathered investors, and built the first Ferris wheel.

The original wheel, with a diameter of 250 feet, stood between two 140-foot towers. This means the wheel was as tall as a 26-story building.


Original Ferris Wheel Stats

  • Unlike modern wheels with their three-seat chairs, the original wheel consisted of thirty-six cars. 
  • Each car was fitted with forty revolving chairs and accommodated sixty passengers. 
  • The original wheel took twenty minutes to make two revolutions. 
  • Tickets for the original wheel cost fifty cents. 

Sadly, the Expo’s Ferris wheel was turned into scrap metal in 1906. And yet, over a hundred years later, a Ferris wheel can be found at almost any carnival or fair.

Somers' Roundabout

A Caveat


Though we know this popular carnival ride as a Ferris wheel, it wasn’t the first. William Somers received a U.S. patent for his Roundabout, a fifty-foot wooden structure that he installed at Asbury Park and Atlantic City, NJ, and Coney Island, NY in 1892.

Smaller "pleasure wheels"--much smaller--date back to at least 17th century Bulgaria. The following image is of a French carnival ride.

Magic City, Paris 1913

Celebrate National Ferris Wheel Day

As you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day, consider celebrating National Ferris Wheel Day by singing “Happy Birthday” to George Ferris, Jr.


Johnnie writes award-winning stories in multiple genres. A fan of classic movies, stacks of books, and road trips, she shares a life of quiet adventure with Griff, her happy-go-lucky collie, and Rugby, her raccoon-treeing papillon. Visit her at johnnie-alexander.com.

Photo Credits ~ Public domain 


  1. I'm not a fan of ferris wheels either, and can remember exactly when that happened. I was about twelve, and my grandfather and I were at the Timonium State Fair in Maryland. The ferris wheel we rode had cars that rotated as the wheel turned. It was very scary and unexpected! My grandfather almost lost his eyeglasses and changed fell out of his pocket and clanged around inside the car. I love the history of the wheel, thanks for sharing.

    1. Oh, Linda! I would have been terrified. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  2. Thanks for posting today. I do like Ferris wheels. It would have been interesting to see the original with the cars being able to hold so many people. I would hope that it was rigidly attached instead of swinging or rocking, because you KNOW there would be adventurous riders who would start rocking the car. That would make it a hard "NO" for me so I'd have to know my fellow passengers!

  3. I think it was the rocking that first frightened me though now I have a thing about heights, too. Thanks for commenting!