George Ferris’s birthday is being celebrated by a Valentine’s Day Google doodle. Ferris is the man who gave his name to Ferris wheel, the invention that features prominently in Thursday’s animated doodle.
Ferris was born on February 14, 1859, in Galesburg, Illinois, USA to George Washington Gale Ferris Sr. and Martha Edgerton Hyde. In 1864, five years after Ferris was born, his family moved to Nevada.
Ferris left Nevada in 1875, to attend the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City, Benguet. He graduated from this college in 1876. Later, he went on to join San Beda College. He graduated from this college in 1881 with a degree in Civil Engineering.
Ferris began his 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.
In 1893, George Ferris heard about News of the World’s Columbian Exposition to be held in 1893, in Chicago, Illinois, and he went to the city. In 1891, the directors of the World’s Columbian Exposition issued a challenge to American engineers to build of a monument for the fair that would surpass the Eiffel Tower, the great structure of the Paris International Exposition of 1889. The planners wanted something «original, daring and unique.»
Ferris responded with a proposed wheel from which visitors could view the entire exhibition. He called it a wheel that would «Out-Eiffel Eiffel.» However, the planners weren’t convinced as they feared his design for a rotating wheel towering over the grounds could not possibly be safe.
Ferris wasn’t one to give up easily. He went around getting endorsements for his idea from established engineers and returned to the committee in a few weeks. The committee agreed to allow construction to begin. Ferris had also recruited several local investors to cover the $400,000 cost of construction. Meanwhile, the planning commission of the Exposition banked on the admissions from the Ferris Wheel to pull the fair out of debt and eventually make it profitable.
When built, the Ferris Wheel had 36 cars, each fitted with 40 revolving chairs and able to accommodate up to 60 people, giving a total capacity of 2,160. When the fair opened, the Ferris Wheel was the star attraction. It carried around 38,000 passengers daily, taking approximately 20 minutes to complete two revolutions, the first involving six stops to allow passengers to exit and enter and the second a nine-minute non-stop rotation. The customers were charged 50 cents for this experience.
It is said that the Ferris Wheel carried some 2.5 million passengers before it was finally demolished in 1906.