George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.

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George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. (1859-1896) was an engineer and inventor, best known for inventing the Ferris Wheel for the World's Colombian Exposition of 1893. Between the years of 1864 and 1875 he was a resident of Carson City and the Carson Valley. His family home is still standing in Carson City, as part of the Blue Line tour.


Ferris was born in Galesburg, Illinois, on February 14, 1859. At age five, in 1864, his family headed west and settled in the Carson Valley, on a ranch just north of what is now Minden. Here young George was often taken with watching the water wheels on the Carson River, a memory which would follow him later in his professional life.

After a few years of being a farmer, George's father, George Sr., decided to move to Carson City and start a landscaping business. The family moved to a house at Third and Division in 1868, where George Sr. set to importing trees from the East to populate the barren streets and yards of town. In particular George Sr. landscaped the ground of the new Capitol Building in the 1870s, and many of the trees he planted are still there today.

In 1875 George was sent away to school at the California Military Academy, in Oakland. He then went back East to pursue an education in engineering, and remained there for the rest of his life. He graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York in 1881. He worked as an engineer, designing roads, bridges and buildings throughout the East.

In 1891 a challenge went out to American engineers to design a signature structure for the upcoming Chicago world's fair. Fair promoters were looking for something to rival Paris' Eiffel Tower. George, undoubtedly remembering the times he would watch water wheels spinning around on the Carson River, devised a giant wheel with buckets for passengers to ride in. His idea was chosen to represent the fair, but Ferris had to come up with funding on his own to get it built. He managed to get it done, and in June 1893 the 266-foot wheel opened as the centerpiece of the fair.

The wheel was a success at the fair, but afterwards didn't bring George the fame or fortune he sought. He spent the next few years trying to sell the concept of the Ferris wheel to other cities, with no luck. He also claimed he was owed some of the profits the wheel generated for the fair, but that case was mired in court. Sinking deep into depression and ill health, George let his life slip away. He died in a Pittsburgh hospital on November 21, 1896, with no one by his side. Reports ascribed his death to typhoid fever.


George G.W. Ferris is not to be confused with George Ashmead Ferris, a Reno architect active in the early 20th century, who designed the Governor's Mansion.

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