After the World's Columbian Exposition, the Ferris wheel was moved into the middle of Chicago's northside in 1895, where George Ferris opened "Ferris Wheel Park."
Click ─► "Ferris Wheel Park" to see the Ferris wheel running in a one-minute film by the famous Lumiere Brothers pioneers of the beginning of moving pictures, and is one of the first films ever shot in Chicago. You'll see how slowly the wheel rotated, verified by the people's walking pace, the streetcars and horse-drawn wagons pace speed.
The Ferris wheel would delight fairgoers once more at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1904, the largest World Fair ever held in the country up to 1904, from St. Louis (founded in 1764). Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis & Clark to explore the new Louisiana Territory in May 1804. Two years later, when the explorers returned in September 1806, the city became known as the "Gateway to the West" for the many mountain men, adventurers, and setters who followed the path of Lewis and Clark into the new frontier. The 1904 World's Fair was the centennial celebration of that original historical event that established St. Louis as the de facto "Gateway to the West." The "Gateway Arch," the famous 630-foot Arch on the banks of the Mississippi River, was completed in 1966 to commemorate the city's "Gateway to the West" moniker.
The Ferris wheel (264 feet high) came to a most ignominious end when it succumbed to a wrecking dynamite charge on May 11, 1906. Contrary to the demolition engineers' hopes that it would fall over on its side, it simply crumbled in place.
|CLICK FOR A FULL-SIZE READABLE IMAGE.
MYTH: There is rumor of a letter (circa 1950) from a descendant of an employee of the Chicago House Wrecking Company (later; Harris Brothers Company - Kit Home Sellers), who were contracted to dismantle the 1904 World's Fair that states that the axle was taken back to Chicago and put in the company's yard, and later, in the late 1910s, cut up the axle for scrap.DEBUNKED: A cesium magnetometer located the axle under Skinker Boulevard at Wydown Boulevard and identified it in 2007 (see images below).
Imagine an imagined scenario in 1906 when a city official charged with cleaning up the area and returning to the city's business ordered his crew boss, "Get rid of that hunk of metal. Hide, bury, or do whatever, but I don't want to see it anymore."
|Size of the axle during the reassembly before the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.
A short time after the destruction of the Ferris wheel after the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition was over, Mr. John T. Jones of 703 Grand Boulevard, Iron Mountain, Michigan (built-in 1890 - date razed unknown), a personal friend of George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., was engaged in building a large greenhouse for his wife, Rachel, as an addition to their home. Jones purchased some debris from the Ferris Wheel."It's just been wrecked from the St. Louis Fair. Think of having the original Ferris Wheel – [the] first one in the world – right here. It was the buy of a lifetime. I'll use the girders for the roof and the glass [from the gondola cars] for the windows. Imagine having a real plate glass greenhouse. It'll be the talk of the country," said Jones.
The Ferris wheel metal was used to build the trusses of Dunn's Bridge in Jasper County, Indiana. This is unfounded and very unlikely as the bridge's arches are not concentric. Some claim the metal was from another 1893 World's Fair building.
|This is all that is left of the Ferris wheel after demolition at St. Louis, MO.
Using technical means to attempt to locate the axle, Professor Patrick Shore of the Physics Department at nearby Washington University and his class in 1996 conducted a magnetic survey on the golf course in northwest Forest Park (opened in 1876, the 1,371-acre park includes the Missouri History Museum, St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis Science Center and Planetarium, St. Louis Zoo, the outdoor Muny Theater, the World's Fair Pavillion, a dozen restaurants, athletic fields & golf courses, and over 35 other attractions today).
They did succeed in confirming the location of the Ferris wheel foundation by its large steel bolts and other steel frameworks, but there was no axle. Another remote sensing survey, this time using a ground-probing radar, was conducted and appeared to show something along Alexander Drive just west of Skinker Boulevard. Still, another survey, this time using an infrared scanner, was flown over the area and claimed to be able to see thermal indications of the axle under Alexander Drive just a hundred yards or so from Skinker. Based on that indication, a local TV station sponsored using a backhoe to dig at that site, finding only some clay water pipes.
Sheldon Breiner, with a technical background in geophysical exploration for natural resources, was contacted for yet another try to locate the axle through technological means. He applied one geophysical method, magnetic surveying, to find items of cultural or sometimes strategic interest. Breiner contacted Gene Kiernan, a St. Louis World's Fair Society member, to conduct a magnetic survey over prospective sites in and around the original location of the Ferris wheel. He was introduced to an archaeologist from Washington University, Dr. Carol Diaz-Granados, who had written papers on the subject of the 1904 World's Fair, among other things. We considered the lore and the confirmed background regarding what might have happened to the axle. The dimensions and general ferromagnetic properties of such a piece of steel were sufficiently known to allow me to plan the survey. Breiner was also familiar with the geology of the St. Louis area regarding possible magnetic interference.
The prime areas deemed worth surveying were:
- That part of the golf course is just east of Skinker Boulevard. south of Forsyth and adjacent to Skinker near the original site of the Ferris wheel
- The debris burial areas near WydownBoulevard . and University Land
- Wydown Boulevard from Skinker to the west for about 400 yards
- Alexander Dr. from Skinker to its intersection with Woodbourne Dr.
|Proposed areas to conduct magnetic reconnaissance survey, May of 2007.
|Sheldon Breiner on Skinker Boulevard with a cesium magnetometer GPS.
The proposed areas were walked carrying the magnetometer in what is termed 'search mode' where the data are not recorded but observed as one walks, making a note in real-time of anomalies. The sensor on the golf course was carried affixed to the staff with the staff held horizontally about 2 feet above the ground. In the streets, the sensor was carried at about 6 feet. Many anomalies were noted on the golf course, some of which were undoubtedly the steel bolts and fixtures related to the Ferris wheel foundation. However, some significant anomalies were noted under Skinker adjacent to the golf course. It was quickly pointed out that anomalies due to parked (or passing) vehicles were small relative to the vast anomalies noted under Skinker.
The local park on Wydown, due east from the school, had virtually no magnetic anomalies of any kind, though it was suspected as being a possible dumpsite for the Fair. A quick walk-through was carried out in search mode along Wydown Terrace and Alexander Drive, the schoolyard adjacent to Wydown School, and along the east and west heading lanes of Wydown near Skinker and the median strip in between.
The only anomaly in the areas covered that was large enough to evaluate seriously was found under the southbound lanes of Skinker roadway at its intersection with Wydown. This anomaly was first noted on extensions of lines that walked out from the golf course onto Skinker. In the times between traffic flows and stop-light-mediated times, Breiner surveyed all around the site of the anomaly, first in search mode and then, using the differential GPS, in 'survey mode' where the data are recorded. It was essential to see if any other such significant anomalies were possibly associated with it. He surveyed the width of Skinker and the length from just south of Alexander to a hundred yards north of Wydown, finding no other significant anomalies. There was not enough time to conduct a systematic, gridded survey of the remaining golf course section around the Ferris wheelbase or the area northwest of the Ferris wheel foundation.
|Location of the axle under Skinker Boulevard at its intersection with Wydown Boulevard.
When the anomaly was finally delineated, it appeared to be caused by a long, possibly horizontal, source, trending in a North-North-East direction, about 200' south of the Ferris wheel's base. The anomaly was more significant than anything originating from sub-street utilities or any other possible industrial source. It was not of geologic origin as much of Eastern Missouri is underlain by limestone, which is usually as close to non-magnetic as any typical rock type.
That this size agrees pretty well with my crude estimates is mainly circumstantial, as the basic fundamentals represented only rough averages accumulated from years of experience of the magnetic effects of iron and steel objects in an urban or industrial context for a variety of unusual industrial, military and cultural/historical things. Breiner did derive the estimates weeks before arriving on the scene in St. Louis.
|Location of the axle under Skinker Boulevard. Looking NE towards Forest Park.
Several profiles were obtained along and across the presumed location of the axle. The profile and the modeled profile based upon a steel cylinder 45 feet long and 3 feet in diameter are shown in the figure. The south end of the axle is at a depth of between 7 and 10 feet beneath the pavement at the location indicated in the images shown here. The north end of the axle is not as well defined and could be somewhat deeper, perhaps as a consequence of halting, in mid-stage, the efforts to bury the axle.
|1904 - During the St Louis World's Fair at the Observation Wheel's foundation.
Note that there were no streets here in 1904. It was parkland.
|1906 - immediately after the demolition of the Wheel. Still no roads.
|2007- under Skinker Boulevard at Wydown Boulevard.
Dr. Sheldon Breiner died on October 9, 2019, at his home in Portola Valley, California, near Palo Alto. He was 82 years old.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.
Dr. Sheldon Breiner, Contributor