The Power of Questions: Critical Thinking and the Ferris Wheel


George Ferris, Jr. was an engineer and bridge builder from Pittsburgh, Pennslyvania. He later started his own company to test and inspect metals used for railroads and bridges. While at a meeting to plan the upcoming World’s Fair to be staged in Chicago, he was presented with a challenge to build something spectacular that guests of the fair would never forget.

Only years before in 1889, Paris hosted a world’s fair and unveiled the Eiffel Tower, a huge engineering feat that stood 1,047 feet high, the tallest building in the world at the time. So the Americans wanted to rival the Eiffel Tower by creating something even more magnificent and inspiring. And they called Ferris to the task.

Ferris questioned whether simply building a taller structure would give America the prestige it was looking for. But what if he could create a moving tower? The question suddenly unleashed his creativity, and from here he continued:

What did he know about other fair attractions?

This question helped him connect what he was trying to understand with what he already knew. He knew that the Merry-Go-Round was always popular, generating large revenues. It was a relatively simple structure, and it moved.

Rumor has it that Ferris, Jr. drew a sketch of his idea on a cocktail napkin that very same night at dinner. And within five months 2,100 tons of materials were transported, forged and hoisted into place. Carts were hung from the wheel’s arms, where 2,160 people could ride at a time. Two steam engines were put in place to power the wheel that was designed to lift people 264 feet high so that they could witness the entire fair in action.

When the Ferris wheel opened to the public on June 21, 1893, Ferris Jr. gave a speech noting that “he’d  gotten the wheels out of his head and made them a living reality;” in other words, he put his ideas into motion, all by asking the right questions.

And it is said that the first Ferris wheel was built without one change to this original design that he drew on the cocktail napkin.

Ferris wheels can now be found in most major cities across the world. The Singapore Flyer, which is currently the largest in operation, opened in 2008 and reaches 541 feet, or 42 stories, high!

Today’s Friday Profile was taken from LifeBound’s book CRITICAL AND CREATIVE THINKING FOR TEENAGERS. To learn more about LifeBound’s books, click here. To read a free sample chapter from CCT, click here.

VIDEO: For more information about the video in today’s post, visit

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