It is June 21, 1893, and the Ferris Wheel is finally open to the public. George Ferris makes a speech in which he dedicates his design to the engineers of America. The band plays “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” and the wheel begins to fill with paying customers. The Ferris Wheel works successfully, despite being completely full of riders.
Patriotism suffuses all things at the WF — the Ferris Wheel is no exception. Indeed, the very existence of the Ferris Wheel is proof of the intensity of American patriotism —- it’s meant to challenge the grandeur of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
The Ferris investors circulate a pamphlet in which Ferris is praised for his ingenuity. The pamphlet suggests that he’d be a king in another country, and implies that the World’s Fair organizers have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars by not granting Ferris a commission earlier. This is the truth — if Ferris had been allowed to start construction on the wheel earlier, it would have been ready for tourists, paying money, months earlier, and it would have attracted many thousands more visitors from across the country, boosting the World’s Fair’s overall attendance.
Though the dedication of the Ferris Wheel is meant to imply the cooperation of all the investors and organizers at the WF, it’s not hard to see evidence of friction between them. The WF, despite being for the most part brilliantly organized, makes some enormous mistakes, one of which is not recognizing the wheel for the star attraction that it is.
Ferris’s pamphlet claims that the wheel is completely safe to ride. But Ferris’s finished design, with its long, thin rods, looks so sleek and elegant that tourists think that it can’t support the weight of passengers. One visitor wonders what would happen if the wind blew the wheel over. Larson notes that this visitor’s question will be answered in only three weeks.
At a fair dominated by the strong, intimidatingly solid-looking neoclassical buildings designed by Burnham and his colleagues, the Ferris Wheel is too weak-looking to inspire much confidence in visitors. Larson ends the chapter with a cliff-hanger — will the wheel be safe or not?