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Las Vegas High Roller Ferris Wheel Opens, But Original Was Born In Chicago

The original Ferris Wheel at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. (Credit: Wikipedia)

The original Ferris Wheel at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. (Credit: Wikipedia)

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By John Dodge

CHICAGO (CBS) — The High Roller Ferris Wheel in Las Vegas–the world’s tallest–opened on Monday, but the original was built right here in Chicago.

From the ground to the top of the tallest cabin, the High Roller tops out at 550 feet, making it the world’s tallest observation wheel. It is 107 feet taller than the London Eye.

The original Chicago Ferris Wheel was designed for the 1893 World’s Fair on Chicago’s South Side. It opened on June 21 and soared to a height of 264 feet.

At the time, many people attending the fair had never experienced such soaring heights. (The tallest building in the world in 1893 was also in Chicago, the 302-foot Masonic Temple building at State and Randolph.)

Each 24-foot-long cabin could accommodate a total of 60 people and seat 38 riders. Filled to capacity, it carried 2,160 people.

By comparison, the High Roller can carry 40 people in a cabin–they are available to rent for private parties–for a total of 1,120 passengers.

The Chicago wheel was created by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. The inspiration for the attraction came from the Chicago fair organizers’ desire to create something more spectacular than the Eiffel Tower, which was the crown jewel of the previous World’s Fair in Paris.

Everything about the Chicago wheel was massive in scale. The axle, forged by the Bethlehem Iron Co. in Pittsburgh weighed 89,320 pounds It was 45.5 feet long and 33 inches in diameter.

Each cabin weighed 26,000 pounds.

The entire structure weighed more the 2 million pounds.

The current Navy Pier Ferris Wheel, which pays homage to the original, rises 150 feet along Chicago’s lakefront. Each cabin can comfortably seat four to six people.