Newcastle is the latest city to unveil plans for a giant ferris wheel, dubbed the ‘Whey Aye’.
An artists impression of the Whey Aye, which developers want to build on the banks of the Tyne, Newcastle. Photograph: World Wheel Company/PA
When the young engineer George Washington Gale Ferris Jr erected a giant rotating observation wheel in Chicago 1893, as the centrepiece of the World’s Fair, little did he know what he would unleash.
It was planned as the United States’ answer to the Eiffel Tower, and received due acclaim, but the wheel left Ferris mired in debts, lawsuits and ill health.
Bankrupt and suffering from typhoid fever, he died three years later, aged 37. His wheel was resurrected for another fair in Missouri, before being dynamited into scrap.
The world’s first ferris wheel, Chigaco, 1893. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
A hundred and twenty five years on, his vision for a great circular ride into the sky continues to enrapture tourists and seduce mayors the world over. The ferris wheel has a timeless joy about it, combining the quaint charm of the seaside funfair with the stately drama of a hot-air balloon flight, the horizon gradually revealed as you ascend towards the clouds.
Since the supposedly temporary London Eye was opened in 2000, swiftly joining Big Ben on mugs and tea towels, the big wheel has become the ultimate accessory for cities seeking an extra bauble to decorate the skyline, or a diverting garnish for a waterfront property development.
Newcastle is the latest city bidding to join the club, with plans for a 140 metre (459ft) wheel (crucially, five metres taller than the London Eye), already known as the “Whey Aye”, as part of a £100m redevelopment of its quayside.
It is the brainchild of the World Wheel Company, which has so far brought its “unique concepts” to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, and the Chinese city of Suzhou. The Tyneside iteration will transform into an advertising billboard by night, and will come complete with a golf simulator and the “Geordie Giant”, a big steel man whose arms will move to tell the time.