Opened: 2 May 1953
Location: Central Midway (1953-1964), North Midway (1965-1990)
Manufactured By: Eli Bridge Company – Jacksonville, Illinois
Ride Model: #5 Electric Rim Drive Wheel
Max Speed: 6.75 rpm
Max Height: 45 ft
Footprint: 27 x 45 ft
Number Of Gondolas: 12
Ride Capacity: 36 (3 per gondola)
The 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago inspired many people. One of which was Lagoon founder, Simon Bamberger, who returned to Utah wanting to build a new park in a garden setting. The same exposition featured a 264-foot-tall observation wheel, which was built in response to the Eiffel Tower built for the 1899 World’s Fair in Paris.
It was the product of a bridge builder named George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. Even though it was the only official Ferris Wheel ever made, it started a long-standing tradition for amusement parks everywhere.
The wheel made a significant impression upon W. E. Sullivan, who also happened to be a bridge builder. He worked with a machinist to produce the first Eli Wheel in 1900. It became a success and the Eli Bridge Company began mass-producing the rides in 1906.¹
Lagoon’s first Ferris Wheel was next to the lake before being replaced in 1919 by the Captive Aeroplanes (which later became the Rockets). Another mention of a Ferris Wheel appeared in a 1924 ad, but that’s about all the information that has been found so far.
The longest-running Ferris Wheel at Lagoon opened in 1953 and was claimed to be the tallest in Utah, although it seems to be the typical size for the time. It was installed at what was then the north end of the Midway.
A large fire in November of that year destroyed the western half of the park, but the Ferris Wheel was one of few rides to survive the fire.
In June 1964 when popular recording duo, the Everly Brothers came to perform a concert, they chose to use Lagoon’s Ferris Wheel as a backdrop for photos to be used in promoting their new song, “The Ferris Wheel”.
Back then, a public road named Lagoon Lane passed by not far from the Ferris Wheel. This road was the northern boundary of the park since it opened here in 1896. In 1965, Lagoon Lane was rerouted to allow Lagoon to extend the Midway northward. The expansion included a new fountain and the addition of the Wild Mouse. Other rides were relocated to accentuate the new features including the Ferris Wheel which was placed on the west side of the Wild Mouse.
When the Wild Mouse was removed after the 1970 season, the other rides remained, leaving an empty gap between the Ferris Wheel and Space Scrambler (see photo below).
All the other rides were eventually moved elsewhere, but 1988 and 1989 park maps show the Ferris Wheel in roughly the same spot it had been in since 1965. It may have been shifted to the north, but it’s still shown at the same angle.
The 1990 photo below shows the Ferris Wheel was moved just behind the north Sky Ride station and turned to face the east.
1990 was the last season for this Ferris Wheel as it would be eclipsed the following year by the giant Sky Scraper, which was more than 100 feet taller.
Today, a similar Ferris Wheel can still be enjoyed at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City.
1. Decades later, the Eli Bridge Company would develop other rides like Lagoon’s Space Scrambler and The Dragonfly.
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Lagoon ad. Deseret News, 22 Aug 1924.
Lagoon Pre-Opening Slated. Deseret News, 28 Apr 1953.
Lagoon backgrounds to boost Everly song. Deseret News, 20 Jun 1964.
Smith, Jacob. The Lagoon Resort: A Thrilling Urban Escape. 2005.
Malanowski, Jamie. The Brief History of the Ferris Wheel. Smithsonianmag.com, Jun 2015.
Company History. EliBridge.com, accessed 8 Mar 2020.
Wheels. EliBridge.com, accessed 8 Mar 2020.