The pang of rejection is a heart-wrenching feeling that we all know too well. The glow of doing something they told you you could never do, however, is a soaring, gorgeous creature of a feeling that warms your chest and stretches a smile on your face. And when your achievements fly in the face of those who told you it could not be done, there is an immense satisfaction to pulling it off.
George Ferris’s story encapsulates that feeling. Inventor of the eponymous Ferris Wheel, he encountered severe pushback and worrying doubt from many people, yet he never gave up on his dream. In Mr. Ferris and His Wheel, Kathryn Gibbs Davis imbues within her reader that same incredible power of never giving up on yourself.
Meant to be the American answer to Paris’s Eiffel Tower at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair, the erection of the Ferris Wheel was a Sisyphean process. Ferris was met with continuous resistance, at first from the event’s supervisory architect, Daniel Burnham. Burnham called for something spectacular, telling his engineers and architects to “Make no little plans,” but was intimidated by Ferris’ idea and shot him down.
Ferris was not deterred, however. Instead, he worked tirelessly to recruit investors, gain the endorsements of fellow engineers, and rectify safety concerns. Finally, his plans received approval from the World’s Fair officials, but now, he only had four months to make it a reality, and was using $25,000 of his own savings (a huge chunk of change in 1893, and roughly half a million dollars in 2018). Now, riding on the shoulders of one man, were the hopes of the fair, the American reputation, and his own personal financial and social standings.
Of course, everything went wrong.
Construction began during one of the coldest winters Chicago had seen in years, and the weather conspired to form a three-foot-thick layer of ice on the ground. And below? A 20-foot-deep quicksand pit of all things! Locals spouted doubt, speculating that the wheel would never be finished and that Ferris was a madman.
The pressure mounted as June approached, but against the odds, Ferris finally pushed that boulder up the mountain. He completed construction on the wheel just in time, on June 21, 1893, and successfully awed fair-goers for the rest of the summer. Ferris’ original wheel ran successfully for more than a decade before retiring quietly to a scrapyard. Now, the Ferris Wheel is a ubiquitous sight, from carnivals in the American Midwest to the bustling urban hub of London, and has perhaps hosted the most first kisses out of any amusement park ride (a remarkable feat).
George Ferris won that victorious, radiant feeling when he pulled it off and wowed millions. Davis’ book gracefully illustrates Ferris’ achievement in a way that seamlessly betrays warmth and triumph. Mr. Ferris and His Wheel paints an empowering image of the incredible heights that can be reached with a healthy dose of faith,dedication, and imagination.