In most parts of the world, Ferris wheels are named what they are because American George Ferris Jr. invented these large revolving structures with gondolas in 1893.
The 4th-largest Ferris Wheel in the world today can be found on the south bank of the River Thames in London. It’s called the “London Eye.” That’s because when people ride to the top of this 135-meter (443 feet) ride, they get a thrilling bird’s “eye” view of the British capital city.
The London Eye was built as part of the 2000 Millennium celebration. When the structure was completed in March of 2000, it was the largest in the world. Observation wheels have since surpassed it in Nanchang (China), Singapore and Las Vegas.
However, the London Eye is extremely popular in the U.K. It is the most-visited paid tourist attraction in the nation, with 3.5 million visits per year. The highest tourist attraction in the U.K. is the British Museum, with six million visitors annually, but that’s free.
The London Eye is the brainchild of Julia Barfield and David Marks. This husband-and-wife architect team submitted a proposal to a 1993 competition that asked Londoners to design a new landmark to celebrate the 2000 Millennium. The competition produced few ideas and was widely considered a flop. However, the London Eye captured the imagination of the city’s movers and shakers.
It received a budget of £70 million and was completed for that sum. The owner of the London Eye is Merlin Entertainments, a private company located in Poole, England.
The London Eye was opened with fanfare by then British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the last day of 1999. Unfortunately, a structural design did not allow the wheel to begin taking riders aloft until March of 2000.
The London Eye was originally meant to be a 5-year attraction. However, immense popularity and its ability to draw Ferris wheel enthusiasts from around the world earned the structure permanent residence on the banks of the Thames. The Lambeth Council granted it permanent status in 2002.
By 2008, it was announced that the London Eye had spun 30 million people into the skies over the Home of Big Ben. It has more than doubled that ride number today.
The London Eye continues to capture the imagination of Britons. For example, more than 5,000 people have chosen to get engaged to be married while riding into the sky on this magical and breathtaking attraction.