Celebrated as a technological marvel that rivaled the Eiffel Tower, Chicago’s Ferris wheel has stood as an enduring symbol of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. During the past 125 years, the Ferris wheel has inspired imitations, large and small, around the globe: the 443-foot-tall London Eye and the 541-foot-tall Singapore Flyer are two of the tallest contemporary wheels in operation.

Designed and promoted as an observation wheel, the Ferris wheel is part of a lineage of urban observation towers built for expositions that includes the 1853 Latting Observatory and the 1889 Eiffel Tower. But the story of the Ferris wheel’s rise skyward begins with the dynamics that shaped Chicago during the 1850s.

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