The Earl's Court Wheel

From Discoveries and Inventions of the 19th Century (1898) by Robert Routledge

” . . . . . . amid the attractions of an International Exhibition, it was not lost upon the enterprising people of the States when the ” World’s Fair” at Chicago was in preparation in 1893. It was then that Mr. G. W. G. Ferris, the head of a firm of bridge constructors at Pittsburg, conceived the idea of applying his engineering skill to the erection of a huge wheel, revolving in a vertical plane, with cars for persons to sit in, constituting, in fact, an enormous “merry-go-round,” as the machine once so common at country fairs was called. The novelty of the Chicago erection was, therefore, not the general idea, but the magnitude of the scale, which, for that reason, involved the application of the highest engineering skill, and the solution of hitherto unattempted practical problems. Several thousand pounds were, in fact, expended on merely preliminary plans and designs. The great wheel at Chicago was 350 feet in diameter, and to its periphery were hung thirty-six carriages, each seating forty persons. At each revolution, therefore, 1,440 people would be raised in the air to the height of 250 feet, and from that elevation afforded a splendid prospect, besides an experience of the peculiar sensation like that of being in a balloon, when the spectator has no perception of his own motion, but the objects beneath appear to have the contrary movement, that is to say, they seem to be sinking when he is rising, and viceversd.

“This curious structure was not begun until March, 1893, yet it was set in motion three months afterwards, having cost about £62,500. The Company had to hand over to the Exhibition one half of the receipts after the big wheel had paid for its construction, but even then they realised a handsome profit, and at the close of the World’s Fair, they sold the machine for four-thirds of its cost, in order that it might be re-erected at Coney Island.

“No sooner had the great Ferris wheel at Chicago proved a financial success than an American gentleman, Lieutenant Graydon, secured a patent for a like machine in the Un1ted Kingdom; and as it has now become almost a matter of course that some iron or steel structure, surpassing everything before attempted, should form a part of each great exhibition, a Company was at once formed in London, under the title of “The Gigantic Wheel and Recreation Towers Co., Limited,” to construct and work at the Earl’s Court Oriental Exhibition of 1895, a great wheel, similar in general form to that of Chicago. But the design of the London wheel had some new features . . . and, moreover, having been planned of larger dimensions than its American prototype, presented additional engineering problems of no small complexity. After due deliberation the scheme of the work was entrusted to Mr. Walter B. Bassett, a talented young engineer, connected with the firm of Messrs. Maudslay, Sons, & Field, and already experienced in designing iron structures. Under this gentleman, with the assistance of Mr. J. J. Webster in carrying out some of the details, the work has been so successfully accomplished that the ” Great Wheel”- of 1895 may be cited as one of the crowning mechanical triumphs of the nineteenth century. . . .
“The wheel at Earl’s Court exceeds the Ferris wheel in diameter by 50 feet, being 300 feet across. It is supported on two towers, 175 feet high, each formed by four columns 4 feet square, built of steel plates with internal diaphragms, and surmounted by balconies that may be ascended in elevators raised by a weight of water, which, after having been discharged into a reservoir under the ground level, is again pumped up to the top of the towers. Between the balconies on each tower there is also a communication through the axle of the wheel, which, instead of being solid as at Chicago, is a tube of 7 feet diameter, and 35 feet long, made in sections, riveted together, of steel 1 inch thick, and weighing no less than 58 tons.”
You can read much more about the history of Earl’s Court as an entertainment venue here. Other rides included a Water Chute and showman who appeared at the grounds included none other than Buffalo Bill, show below at Earl’s Court.

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