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Thursday, October 31, 2013 | This article is listed in the sections Amusement parks and Magazine.

High, higher, Ferris wheel

A dream of mankind has always been to reach the sky: We are building planes and fly through the space with rockets all the way to distant planets. And we are building skyscrapers which are getting closer to the clouds with every new building. So do many of the coasters and drop towers at amusement parks all over the world by reaching 100 and more metres. But even friends of moderate rides can get to know the true promise of floating high in the sky, above the roofs of the world. Ferris wheels can make it happen.

The Singapore Flyer

First wheels made of wood

To experience the beginning of observation wheels we have to go back to the early 17th century. At this time single seats were attached to big wooden rings in Bulgaria and these constructions got in motion by strong man, just in use of their muscular strength. In the following years this early kind of observation ride fanned out, and so the wheels by the same construction type had found its way to Great Britain, India, Romania and Serbia already.

The first modern observation wheel was built in 1893 on the occasion of the world exposition in Chicago, because the organisers wanted to outshine the Eiffel Tower which was erected four years before at the Expo in Paris. After initial doubts about a possible realization the jury finally decided on the proposal of the engineer George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. who formally worked in the section of railway technology and bridge building to create an observation ride in shape of a wheel. With a height 80.5 metres and a diameter of 76.2 metres, it offered space for up to 60 persons in 36 gondolas. At this time, it was a status symbol of the engineering, economic success and power of the USA. Even today this kind of ride is named "Ferris wheel”, marking its inventors achievements.

The renaissance of the Ferris wheels

In the 20th century the interest in these observation rides declined permanently, so that more and more Ferris wheels were closed and carried to their end. In the 80's they got rediscovered and underwent a renaissance. "London Eye” gained special interest, was introduced to the millennium celebrations and, at this time, was the tallest ever built Ferris wheel towering 135 metres. Not only visually the wheel appears specifically by the use of steel cables, with witch it is fixed to the centre, but also technically it was an improvement: For the first time the gondolas were arranged in a way at the ring that they will not hang into it at the highest point as usual, but instead still remain on the outside and provide an unrestricted view.

View at the gondolas of London Eye
This very day it is still the third tallest Ferris wheel in the world and to date only the "Star of Nanchang” located in China with a height of 160 metres and the "Singapore Flyer” opened in 2008 outperform it. This observation ride is currently leading the rank of the tallest Ferris wheels worldwide by 165 metres. Further projects, mostly planned as tourist highlights in metropolises, were announced, but vanished into thin air again. In Berlin, for example, the "Great Berlin Wheel” should have been built in the neighbourhood of the zoological garden and become the tallest Ferris wheel in the world with a height of 175 metres. Due to financing problems, the project was quit after two years, although it had a building permission and the ground-breaking ceremony was held in 2007. But this is not the end of these popular attractions: there are actually plans to build a new Ferris wheel at New York harbour near to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. With a total height of over 180 metres it would become the world's tallest observation wheel. Construction is expected to begin in 2104. Time will tell, whether these plans will work out or not.

© parkscout/AM

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