8 Amazing Ferris Wheels from Around the World

In 1893, Chicago was in need of a pièce de résistance. The city was hosting the World’s Columbian Exposition (a.k.a. the Chicago World's Fair) and wanted a showpiece that would rival Paris' Eiffel Tower from the 1889 fair. After a number of outrageous ideas were nixed, 33-year-old Pittsburgh engineer George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. suggested a giant revolving wheel.

The world's first Ferris wheel was unveiled on June 21 of that year. It measured 250 feet in diameter and held 60 people in each of its 36 cars. Ferris didn't invent the wheel, but his version (into which he put $25,000 of his own money) was a huge success, welcoming 1.4 million people over the following 19 weeks.

The engineer never had the chance to build another wheel, succumbing to typhoid fever just three years later, and the original wheel was dismantled in the early 1900s. But in the century since, many notable Ferris wheels have sprung up around the world. Here are some that are worth the trek.


The birthplace of the Ferris wheel is still garnering attention for its rides, though not for outdoing the original. In fact, the one pictured above (which was put into retirement last month) was over 100 feet lower than Mr. Ferris' original 264-foot-tall creation. It must have been comfy enough however, because in 2013, it served as the site of the world's longest Ferris wheel ride (over 48 hours). A new version will open next spring to coincide with the Navy Pier's centennial, though it too will fall some 50 feet short of the granddaddy of Ferris wheels. What the $26.5 million project might lack in stature, it'll make up for in modernity: the 42 enclosed gondolas, that each seat 10, will not only be temperature controlled—for year-round enjoyment—but they'll include plush seats and television systems. 


Chicago might not be delivering on height, but that doesn't mean there aren't some impressively tall wheels out there. The world's oldest-running Ferris wheel—and the only surviving iteration built in the 19th century—held the title of tallest longer than any other Ferris wheel. The 212-foot-tall Wiener Riesenrad was built in 1897, and while it didn't earn World's Tallest honors until 1920, it held the top spot until 1985. Japan's Technostar eventually dethroned the attraction, but Riesenrad continued to do all right for itself, making a cameo in a number of different movies, including a memorable first kiss in Before Sunrise.


California’s Pacific Coast is well-known for bright, beautiful weather and the Ferris wheel at the Santa Monica Pier makes good use of it as the world’s first and only solar-powered Ferris wheel. First installed in 1996, the original wheel was sold on eBay for over $130,000 when a new one was erected in 2008. The original solar panels are still in place, however, generating up to 71,000 kilowatt hours of photovoltaic power—which is enough to power the 160,000 LED lights and rides for 800 passengers an hour.


Completed in 1920, this Coney Island classic is one of, if not the, first so-called eccentric Ferris wheel—a dizzying distinction that refers to the way 16 of the 24 cars on the 150-foot-tall wheel swing back and forth during the ride. The original architect, a Romanian-born engineer named Charles Hermann, designed it as such to capitalize on the popularity of both Ferris wheels and roller coasters. During the course of a rotation, the red and blue cars slide in towards the axle and back out towards the perimeter.

It's estimated that more 30 million people have taken a ride on the Wonder Wheel in its 95-year history, and the landmark runs much like it did when it first premiered. It's operated without any major mishaps aside from when it—along with the city—stopped during the Great NYC Blackout on July 13, 1977. Second-generation owner Fred Garms hand-cranked the wheel to bring all the passengers back down to safety.


Much like the London Eye, The High Roller isn't exactly a Ferris wheel. Technically, it's an "observation wheel," which means rather than provide thrill to amusement park goers, it's designed to provide tourists with 360-degree views of the city. In Vegas, this means 28 glass pods that can each hold up to 40 people rotating at one foot per second—or 30 minutes for a full rotation. But The High Roller, which opened in 2014, warrants a mention for the fact that at 550 feet high, it's the tallest rotating wheel experience you can find anywhere in the world—for now.


The High Roller shouldn't get too comfortable atop the list of the World's Tallest Attractions, because New York City is several years deep into plans to best it. The city has long searched for ways to get tourists to not just take the free Staten Island ferry, but to actually get off the boat and walk around the least-appreciated borough. So they're building a 630-foot-tall observation wheel with a $500 million price tag. The wheel, which will carry up to 1440 people at a time, is slated to open in 2017—so this is one trip you'll have to plan in advance.

The race doesn't end there. In Dubai, construction is underway on yet another observation wheel (being built by the same company responsible for both the New York Wheel and the London Eye) that will be 60 feet taller than the Big Apple's.


For a slightly different superlative, there's Tokyo's Big O. Located in the middle of the bustling, ultramodern capital, is the first and largest center-less Ferris wheel. To emphasize the strikingly empty middle, the Dome City Complex attraction has a roller coaster rushing through it at 81 mph.


Completed in 2008, this observation wheel is noteworthy for its unique placement: Directly above a river and straddling a commuter bridge. Its highest point is 400 feet above the river Hai, with cars on the Yongle Bridge rushing by underneath riders in one of 50 passenger compartments. 

25 Wild Facts About Alaska

Located 500 miles away from the nearest state, there’s likely a lot you haven’t heard about Alaska. Here are 25 facts about the last frontier.

1. Dog mushing is the official state sport.

2. The state flag was designed by a 13-year-old boy. After calling on students throughout the territory to submit their ideas, Alaska ultimately decided on Benny Benson’s scene of the Big Dipper and the North Star in 1927.


3. Seventeen of the 20 highest peaks in the U.S. are located in Alaska.

4. Some of Alaska’s bizarre moose-specific legislation has included laws against pushing a moose from a plane, viewing a moose from a plane, and giving a moose beer.

5. Haines, Alaska is home to America’s first museum solely dedicated to hammers. Visitors to the Hammer Museum can view their fascinating collections of hammer sculptures, handle-making machinery, and spring-loaded meat tenderizers.

6. Balto is the famous sled dog that’s usually credited with delivering medicine to a remote Alaskan village, but some argue that Togo was the true hero. Before Balto completed the last 55 miles of the journey, Togo pulled the medicine through 200 miles of wind and snow. His stuffed and preserved body is on display at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Museum in Wasilla, Alaska.

7. Alaska broke their record high when temperatures reached 100° F in 1915.

8. Their low of -80° F recorded in Alaska’s Endicott Mountains still holds the record for the nation's all-time low.

9. Alaska has more coastline than the other 49 states combined.

10. Because of their long summer days, Alaska is capable of producing some unusually oversized produce. Some notable specimens that have been harvested in recent years include a 35-pound broccoli, a 65-pound cantaloupe, and a 138-pound cabbage.

11. About 1700 miles south of the geographic North Pole lies the Fairbanks suburb of North Pole, Alaska. The town’s famous Santa Claus House gift shop is open year-round, and thousands of letters addressed to Santa are sent to the zip code each year. (A real-life Santa Claus was even elected to City Council.)

12. The Bering Strait that separates Alaska from Russia is around 55 miles wide at its narrowest point. Within it sit the Russian island of Big Diomede and the U.S. island of Little Diomede, which are just two and a half miles apart. So in theory, it would be possible for some Alaskans to see Russia from their houses.

13. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces bombed and invaded the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. The occupation lasted nearly a year.

14. Moose, caribou, and bear killed by cars in Alaska are considered property of the state [PDF]. When road kill is reported, the carcasses are butchered by volunteers and distributed as food to charity organizations.

15. America’s largest national forest is the Tongass. It’s about three times the size of the runner-up, which is also located in Alaska.

16. Each year, brave Alaskans compete to be crowned the king or queen of their throne in the Fur Rondy Festival outhouse races. Teams outfit the bottoms of their custom-built outhouses with skis and race each other down a two-lane track. In addition to the title of first place, prizes are awarded for the most colorful, best-engineered, and cleanest commodes.

Mike Juvrud, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

17. The Thing, John Carpenter’s 1982 horror classic set in Antarctica, was filmed in Alaska.

18. In Barrow, Alaska, the longest night lasts for 67 days. In the summer they make up for it with 82 days of uninterrupted sunlight.

19. If Manhattan had the same population density as Alaska, only 28 people would inhabit the island.

20. There are 107 men for every 100 women in Alaska, the highest male-to-female ratio in the United States.

21. Juneau is America’s only state capital that isn’t accessible by road.

22. In 1867, Russia agreed to sell Alaska to the United States for $7.2 million, which amounted to about two cents an acre.

23. Many hotels in Alaska offer Northern Lights wake-up calls upon request.


24. The Aleuts, Inupiat, Yuit, Athabascans, Tlingit, and Haida make up the major native groups of Alaska. At more than 14 percent, Alaska has a more concentrated indigenous population than any other state.

25. For years, the small town of Talkeetna, Alaska hosted the annual Moose Dropping Festival. Varnished pieces of numbered moose droppings were dumped from a crane into a parking lot and participants whose corresponding droppings landed closest to the center of a target received cash prizes. The event eventually grew too dangerously large for the town of 850 to handle and was retired in 2009.

This story originally ran in 2015.

Simon Bradfield, iStock
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
10 Shipwrecks You Can Visit
Simon Bradfield, iStock
Simon Bradfield, iStock

UNESCO says that there are no fewer than 3 million shipwrecks lost beneath the waves, their locations just waiting to be discovered. But for tourism purposes, the most interesting shipwrecks are those we already know about—and can visit. These 10 shipwrecks have intriguing stories, and they’re all places where you can step foot, although in some cases a boat (and possibly scuba gear) may be necessary. Remember: Look, don’t touch, since removing artifacts can spoil the chance for valuable archeological research (and is often illegal).


The half-buried shipwreck of the Bessie White on Fire Island, New York
Nick Normal, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The 200-foot schooner Bessie White wrecked off the shore of this barrier island while laden with coal in 1919 or 1922 (historians aren't sure of the exact date). The crew escaped, but the 3-year-old ship ran aground. In October 2012, Superstorm Sandy revealed the battered remnants of the ship's hull, which had been carried to a spot near Skunk Hollow in the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness. The National Park Service sometimes leads hikes to the wreckage, whose location over time provides scientists with clues to how the landscape of Fire Island has changed.


The shipwreck of World Discoverer in the Solomon Islands
Philjones828, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

A cruise ship built in 1974 that once carried passengers to polar regions, MS World Discoverer ran aground in the Solomon Islands in 2000. No lives were lost—all the passengers escaped via ferry after an uncharted rock pierced the ship's hull. Today the wreckage is still a tourist attraction in Roderick Bay in the Nggela Islands, listing heavily against the shore.


The shipwreck of the Peter Iredale in Warrenton, Oregon
Robert Bradshaw, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.5

Now a haunting ruin along the Oregon coast, the Peter Iredale was once a four-masted steel barque sailing vessel owned by British shipping firm Iredale & Porter. In September 1906, the ship left Santa Cruz, Mexico, on its way to Portland, Oregon, where it was supposed to pick up wheat bound for the United Kingdom. But a heavy wind and strong current sent her on to the breakers and she ran aground at Clatsop Beach, with three of her masts snapping from the impact, according to the Oregon History Project. The wreckage became an immediate tourist attraction, and despite being buffeted by the wind and waves ever since, it remains so today. It’s now part of Fort Stevens State Park.


Shipwreck of the MV Panagiotis on Navagio Beach, Greece
Maczopikczu, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

This shipwreck in the Ionian Islands gives its beach its nicknames: Navagio ("shipwreck") Beach and Smugglers Cove. Supposedly, the Panagiotis, which wrecked there in the early 1980s, was smuggling cigarettes and possibly worse. The rusting hulk of the boat is far from the only thing to see, however; the beach also attracts visitors for its clear turquoise waters and pristine pale sand. It’s also one of the most popular spots for BASE jumping in the world. The cove can be accessed only by boat.


Shipwreck of SS Maheno on Fraser Island, Australia
Central Intelligence Agency, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once an ocean liner that plied the Tasman Sea between New Zealand and Australia, the SS Maheno was also used as a hospital ship for the New Zealand navy during World War I. She was later sold to a Japanese ship-breaking company for scrap, but broke apart in a cyclone on the journey to Japan in 1935. Since washing ashore on Australia's Fraser Island, the ship has become a major tourist attraction, despite not being particularly safe.


Once the fastest liner on the Atlantic, the SS Oregon sunk in 1886 just 18 miles off New York after hitting an unidentified schooner, often thought to be the Charles R. Morse. After an unsuccessful attempt to plug the hole in the hull with canvas, the captain ordered the ship abandoned, even though there were only enough lifeboats for half the ship's 852 passengers. (Fortunately, another ship arrived to save the passengers, and there were no casualties.) Today the wreck is a popular dive site in Long Island Sound. Although the ship's hull and decks have disintegrated over the years, the engine and boilers remain, among other remnants.


Granted, it's in a museum, but the Uluburun wreck, which sank off the coast of Turkey during the late Bronze Age, is one of the oldest ships ever found—it dates back 3,500 years. A local sponge diver found the wreck of the Uluburun off the southwestern coast of Turkey in the early 1980s. Archeologists then spent 11 years studying the ship, collecting 20 tons of artifacts, including the remains of fruits and nuts, pottery, jewelry, tools, and weapons. No one knows who built the ship or where it was headed, but judging by the amount of gold onboard, someone rich was involved. The remains of the ship and its cargo, as well as a life-sized replica, are kept at the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology.


Shipwreck of the Captayannis in the River Clyde, Scotland
Stephen Thomas, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Once a Greek sugar-carrying ship, the MV Captayannis has become a de facto home for birds and other wildlife since sinking in Scotland's River Clyde in 1974 during a terrible storm. (The minor collision with a BP oil tanker also didn't help.) The shallow waters around the wreck make it relatively accessible, and the ship seems likely to stay where it is, since its precise ownership is something of a mystery.


Shipwreck of the La Famille Express in the Turks and Caicos Islands
Matthew Straubmuller, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Built in 1952 in Poland, La Famille Express served a large part of its life in the Soviet Navy (where it was known as Fort Shevchenko), before being sold and re-christened with its new name in 1999. It wrecked under mysterious circumstances around 2004. It now lies in just a few feet of water, an attractive landmark for boaters in the Turks and Caicos.


Shipwreck of the Eduard Bohlen in Namibia
Anagoria, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

This wreck is unusual for being buried entirely in the sand—it's now stranded about a quarter mile away from shore. A 2272-ton cargo ship that wrecked off Namibia's Skeleton Coast in 1909 in thick fog, the ship has since drifted so far from the water it's now completely land-locked.


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