"He instinctively can find the shining greatness of our American culture and does a good job of highlighting it (although he also does have those rare lapses when he writes about hockey, but that is something caused by impurities in the Eastern waters or something)." Erik Keilholtz
Under the patronage of St. Tammany
Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
George Washington Gale Ferris came up with the Ferris Wheel on the back of a dinner napkin.
The idea came to him in a Chicago chop house. He was dining with engineers working on the Chicago World's Fair. By supper's end, he'd sketched the whole thing.
It was a 250-foot wheel with 36 passenger boxes. It would turn on a 45 foot axle. He would levitate 42 tons of steel into the air and spin it around. Ferris wouldn't use rigid spokes. Instead, he'd make a web of taut cables -- like a bicycle wheel.
Of course, the other engineers didn't like it. It would fall over in the wind. It'd never carry its own weight. But Ferris prevailed. He built the wheel for the Chicago Fair, and it ran like a Swiss watch. When a hurricane swept the fairground, the wheel stood fast.
Ferris, inventor of the eponymous wheel, most spectacular attraction of the 1893 Chicago world's fair, ended up dying broke and alone, his masterpiece dynamited and buried in a Mississippi delta landfill.
Fifteen months after Ferris's death, a Pittsburgh crematorium was still holding his ashes, waiting for someone -- anyone -- to claim the remains of one of the great champions of North American technology, the engineer who proved Americans were capable of topping the Eiffel Tower. But the mad rush of American history into the 20th century had passed him by. Curiously, it was the French who paid George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. the ultimate posthumous compliment. When planning got under way for the Paris Exposition of 1900, the French decided they wanted a Ferris Wheel of their own, just like George's. The French engineers were given a copy of Ferris's original schematics and reconstructed his Ferris Wheel down to the last rivet. The dead inventor's soaring, shocking technological answer to the Eiffel Tower dazzled France, and dazzled Europe.
MIT today praises Ferris as "the author of [a] uniquely beautiful, and modern, amalgam of spirit, form and function."