Monday, May 14, 2012

A Look Back at Chicago: May 14, 1891

Found on the pages of The Chicago Tribune on this date in 1891 . . .

The Mines and Mining Building of 1893
A flurry of activity on this day as planning for the buildings to be constructed at the World’s Columbian Exposition grounds began in earnest.  Bids went out for the Mines and Mining Building on this date in 1891.  On April 15 bids for the Electrical Building would be asked.  Also on this day the Chief of Construction Daniel Burnham was asked to prepare sketches for a forestry building, a structure not included in the original budget.   The architect was directed to dedicate $125,000 for the planning and construction of the building.

It was also announced that the Columbian Tower was tentatively approved.  It was projected to cost $3,000,000 and stand 100 feet taller than the Eiffel Tower, the showpiece of the Paris Exposition held a dozen years earlier.  Soundings taken in the Midway Plaisance showed that at a depth of 17 feet a layer of clay 50 feet thick was reached.  “On this the foundations for the heaven-scraping structure will be built.”

The tower was not constructed.  Common sense prevailed.  As the January 2, 1892 Scientific American stated, “We do not understand that this work is any portion of the official plan, but that, on the contrary, it is made the subject of concession to the capitalists who provide the necessary funds and expect to gain a large return.  We think it a matter of regret than an exhibition so original in its general features should be marred by the adaptation of an idea—though absolutely novel and successful at Paris in 1880—from another exhibition.

The 1893 Ferris Wheel (Chuckman's Images)
In Norman D. Anderson’s Ferris Wheels:  An Illustrated History we get the inside story.  The great Director of Works Daniel Burnham held forth at a Chicago dinner attended by a group of architects and engineers.  Praising the architects for the accomplishments they had achieved, he, in turn, gave the engineers a gentle scolding.  A tower?  It has already been done.  Where are the new ideas, a novel and innovative structure that showcases the advances in technology that will be on display all over the grounds of the Great Fair?

In the audience was George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., a young man who had already made his mark as an engineer specializing in the testing and use of steel as a building material.  Mr. Ferris recalled:

We use to have a Saturday afternoon club, chiefly engineers at the World’s Fair.  It was at one of those dinners, down in a Chicago chop house, that I hit on the idea.  I remember remarking that I would build a wheel, a monster.  I got some paper and began to sketch it out.  I fixed the size, determined the construction, the number of cars we would run, the number of people it would hold, what we would charge, the plan of stopping six times in the first revolution and loading, and then making a complete turn—in short, before the dinner was over I had sketched out almost the entire detail, and my plan has never varied an item from that day.  The wheel stands in the Plaisance at this moment as it stood before me then.

No comments: