The invention of the Ferris Wheel was America’s answer to the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower designed and built for the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris and it represented the great strides in engineering and technology that was becoming present in world affairs due to industrialization.
Initially, when the committee for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago was looking for a centerpiece attraction as amazing as the Eiffel Tower, most of the initial concepts submitted were just towers that exceeded the Eiffel Tower in grandness and size. While that seems to show technological superiority, it also shows derivative thinking.
Instead, the Ferris Wheel was invented. The original Ferris Wheel was much grander than most of the subsequent Ferris Wheels people have been on at carnivals. It had huge cars that hung from it, 36 in total. Each car could carry 60 people. Over 2000 people could ride the Ferris Wheel at a time, taking them 264 feet into the sky. It was a grandiose display of engineering and while the tower put people high up in the atmosphere, the Ferris Wheel built on the same sort of emotional experience, adding a more pronounced movement aspect to the experience.
Both of these were the most magnificent achievements of their times. Both captured and exuded the spirit of the era. The spirit of possibility. Both captured the idea that technology and science could create emotion and be every bit as expressive as more traditional fine arts. Both required people who saw where the world is going, and leaned into it, inspiring others to do the same and leading to an era that saw increased educational attainment, lower disease, increasing lifespans, more comfortable living, more mobility, and more opportunity then ever dreamed of before.
The spirit of the era captured here over 100 years ago was one of optimism. One of a promising future. We need to find something to capture a shared spirit again. Something that grabs the imagination. Something that fills us with excitement. It seems somewhere along the line we’ve moved towards pessimism. That everything is getting worse. That nothing is worth the effort. The Tower could have collapsed or failed due to many different circumstances. The Ferris Wheel could have failed to go around. They didn’t, they worked. We need big thinking again, and it’s worth taking a long think about what the next century’s spirit and positivity should be centered around.