Navy Pier nonsense #AtoZChallenge

ChicagoAs in years past, this month I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. 2016 marks my fifth anniversary, so to celebrate, I’m hosting Friday Blog-Ins here in San Diego; you can find out more info about where we’re meeting each week on my A to Z Challenge page.

My monthly theme is Chicago From A to Z, so stay tuned from Monday to Saturday for new posts on the Windy City. Or sign up for my mailing list (delivered weekly, on Fridays) so you don’t miss a thing!


Navy Pier is the ultimate tourist trap.

And since I tend to avoid touristy stuff like the plague, you’re probably asking why on earth I’m covering this in my A to Z journey at all. And rightly so!

Here’s the thing:

Navy Pier has an enormous Ferris wheel. And the Ferris wheel is actually a Chicago invention, first created for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

So, there is always some spark of hometown pride whenever I spot one of these otherwise fairly banal, obligatory contraptions. The London Eye. The Roue de Paris. And, yes, the Navy Pier Ferris wheel.

"Ferris Wheel" image by Flickr user vonderauvisuals
“Ferris Wheel” image by Flickr user vonderauvisuals
"The Wheel" image by Flickr user Shutter Runner
“The Wheel” image by Flickr user Shutter Runner
"Navy Pier Ferris Wheel" image by Flickr user vonderauvisuals
“Navy Pier Ferris Wheel” image by Flickr user vonderauvisuals

The Ferris wheel is the most common ride at state fairs throughout the U.S. So if you’ve been on one, you probably assume you’ve experienced them all.

But you know what? Ferris wheels are all different.

For one thing, they come in many different sizes. The larger the wheel, obviously, the higher you get up into the air. The higher up, the better your view, right?

Well, that also depends. Because sometimes Ferris wheel operators just want to crank the wheel as fast as possible, to bring on more passengers and thus make more money. If you’re only guaranteed one spin around the dial, you won’t get such a great view, and will likely feel ripped off the smaller the wheel is.

Add to that the fact that smaller wheels usually have different types of viewing stations: the seated Ferris wheel, that can only accommodate two people on a swing-like contraption, versus the more elaborate and larger wheels that have a more funicular-like platform that can accommodate, say, four or six people per compartment. Are you looking for alone-time with a sweetheart, or a group chance to ooh and ahh over the city?

Famous Ferris wheels

The original Ferris wheel was nothing like the rinky-dink so-called Ferris wheels found at most county fairs. It was 264 feet tall, and intended to directly rival the 1,063-foot Eiffel Tower – another World’s Fair creation.

As per Wikipedia’s description:

“There were 36 cars, each fitted with 40 revolving chairs and able to accommodate up to 60 people, giving a total capacity of 2,160. The wheel carried some 38,000 passengers daily and took 20 minutes to complete two revolutions, the first involving six stops to allow passengers to exit and enter and the second a nine-minute non-stop rotation, for which the ticket holder paid 50 cents.”

A 50-cent ride on a Ferris wheel sounds incredibly cheap these days, doesn’t it? A ride on Navy Pier’s Ferris wheel most recently cost $8 for a 7-minute ride – although the Ferris wheel is currently out of commission, ’til summer 2016 May 27, according to Chicago Magazine (it’s being remodeled with climate control, and will be 33% taller than before at 200 feet; you’ll also be able to ride for three full go ’rounds, rather than just a single trip around the dial).

For film buffs, there’s also the matter of the Vienna Ferris wheel, or Wiener Riesenrad, which figures prominently in the Orson Welles flick, The Third Man. Yes, it is the oldest currently in existence (originally built in 1897). And it was also the tallest until 1985, when Technocosmos wheel was built in Japan. But the Technocosmos isn’t featured in a movie as cool as The Third Man, is it?

But back to Chicago…

Ferris wheels strike me as something similar to that famous Greek quote about not being able to enter the same river twice.

As Heraclitus once said:

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

Is the view from even the same Ferris wheel ever, truly, the same? I would argue no. For it may be the same Ferris wheel, but you will never be the same woman or man who rode the wheel before.

Maybe if we all adopted this “circle of life” approach, we’d be a bit better off? For though we may return and return to the same people, places and events again and again, we are never the same as we were the last go-round. And if we are, may the gods help us, for clearly we haven’t learned a damn thing!

Big wheel keep on turnin’

What’s your favorite Ferris wheel?

Additional Resources

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Giveaway: San Diego from A to Z

Want to read the book I wrote last April, based on my A to Z posts about San Diego? I’m giving away two paperback copies of San Diego From A to Z over at Goodreads, so click here and enter to win! AND I’m giving away one free ebook copy every day until the end of April to a random commenter here on the blog. Leave a comment every day for another chance to win!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

San Diego from A to Z by Laura Roberts

San Diego from A to Z

by Laura Roberts

Giveaway ends April 30, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway


  • JazzFeathers

    I have never been on a Ferris wheele. It must be an exiting experience.
    I don’t think I’ll hav ethe chance to go on the Chicago ferries wheele very easily, but maybe Vienna or London… :-)

    The Old Shelter – Jazz Age Jazz

    • Laura Roberts

      Never?! WOW! I’ve been on tons, but I did visit a lot of amusement parks and fairs in my youth — it must be an American thing. I would definitely recommend taking a whirl on the Ferris wheel; they offer a great view, and are (usually) spun at quite a leisurely pace… unless you are in Myanmar!

  • Lissa Johnston

    I’ve been on a few. I find them a welcome respite from some of the faster rides. I’d love to ride this one and the one in London. Bucket list!

    • Laura Roberts

      I must admit that as a kid, I loved the ones that spun you around really fast, like the Tilt-A-Whirl, and the Scrambler. I also really liked roller coasters, even though they scared the crap out of me. As an adult, I feel like these would just make me puke, so the Ferris wheel is a bit more my speed. ;D