Have you seen a toy or gadget and thought, “I could make a better one than that!” That was exactly what George Ferris thought when he lay in the grass as a boy watching a waterwheel move.
“The boy watched, fascinated. Maybe there is another way to make a wheel go around, he thought.”
Betsy Harvey Kraft tells Ferris’ story in The Fantastic Ferris Wheel: The Story of Inventor George Ferris.
Indeed there was. Ferris became an engineer and designed a spectacular wheel that would carry people over the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.
“George must be out of his mind,” thought other engineers when they saw that George intended for people to ride passenger cars attached to his giant wheel. The public wasn’t sure either. “Some people were terrified just looking at it. Others couldn’t wait to ride on it.”
Thousands did indeed ride the wheel on the first day. “One thrill was enough for some folks; others raced to the end of the ticket line for another ride.”
There are several ways to turn the exciting (and sometimes sad) story of George Ferris and his invention into a writing workshop.
1) Ask students what they would like to invent.
• Write a request for money or supplies to create your invention. Explain what the invention does and why it is worth spending money to make it - especially someone else’s money. Write a persuasive essay or letter to a parent, a local business or even a big foundation.
2) Think about the people who had a chance to ride that very first Ferris wheel.
• Would you have been terrified just looking at it? Or would you be first in line to ride on the Ferris wheel? Explain why (or draw a picture of yourself near or on the Ferris wheel).
3) George Ferris’ first wheel was moved from Chicago to St Louis for another world’s fair in 1904, but after that fair, there was “no new home for the wheel. It was destroyed with dynamite and sold for scrap.”
• What do you think should have happened to the first Ferris wheel instead?
Important inventions often start with dreams. “As long as there are dreamers like George Ferris ready to make big plans, the world can look forward to wonderous new inventions like his.”