As news emerged that Dubai will become the home of the world’s largest Ferris Wheel, the 154th birthday of its original creator was being marked yesterday.
George Washington Gale Ferris, born in 1859, was behind the engineering marvel that has been getting people in a spin for more than a century.
His dream was to create something to eclipse the Eiffel Tower, but he surely could never have imagined his brainchild would one day capture the imagination of the Middle East.
The announcement of the 210-metre high Dubai Eye, earmarked for a site near Jumeirah Beach Residence, will set a watermark in the wheel world. It will outstrip the current record-holder – the five-year-old 165-metre Singapore Flyer – by 45 metres.
It is all a far cry, both height and technology-wise, from Ferris’s original “Eureka” moment in 1893. While the World’s Columbian Exhibition was being planned in Chicago, the American engineer, then 33, arrived with the vision of building a giant structure that would “out-Eiffel Eiffel”.
Ferris hit on the idea of a huge, revolving observation wheel, which was mapped out on scraps of paper.
His plans were at first dismissed by a committee, which said it would not be safe.
But he convinced a team of fellow engineers to vouch for the safety of his design and, more importantly, provide the cash to fund it.
When Ferris’ sketches were transformed into steel reality, the world gasped.
Two 42.6-metre towers supporting the wheel were connected by a 13.7-metre axle, the largest single piece of forged steel to be made at that time. The wheel section had a diameter of 76 metres and was 251 metres in circumference. Two 1,000-horsepower reversible engines powered the revolutionary ride, with 36 wooden cars each holding up to 60 riders.
A spin on the original Ferris wheel cost 50 US cents – a large sum in those days – and the total take during the World Fair was US$726,805.50 (Dh2.7m).
Since its unveiling in Chicago, eight more wheels have set world records for height, and Dubai will be the ninth.
The Dubai Eye, a dominating presence on the Emirates coastline, will not come cheap. It is estimated it will cost Dh1 billion.
In context, Ferris’s original wheel cost US$400,000.
The Dubai wheel will be the first phase of a Dh6bn entertainment project which will start this summer.