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.