Devil of a Tale
Rensselaer and its graduates continue to show up in popular
Set in Chicago circa 1893, Erik Larson’s bestseller The
Devil in the White City intertwines the true tale of two
men — the architect behind the legendary 1893 World’s Columbian
Exposition (also known as the World’s Fair), striving to secure
America’s place in the world; and the cunning serial killer who
used the fair to lure his victims to their death.
It was at the World’s Fair where the Ferris wheel made its
debut. Civil engineer George Ferris, Rensselaer Class of 1881
and Alumni Hall of Fame member, designed the great wheel.
Ferris was the founder of G.W.G. Ferris & Co. in
Pittsburgh, a firm that tested and inspected metals for
railroads and bridge builders.
“George W. Ferris invented the wheel specifically for the
fair as an answer to France’s Eiffel Tower,” Larson writes.
“The wheel was a wondrous feat of engineering: supported by two
140-foot steel towers and connected by a 45-foot axle, it was
the largest single piece of forged steel ever made at the time.
With a diameter of 250 feet and thirty-six cars holding sixty
riders each, the Ferris wheel carried 1,450,000 paying
customers over the course of the fair.”
The Devil in the White City, which The New York
Times calls “a dynamic, enveloping book,” is published by
Originally published in
Rensselaer Magazine, Winter 2004