STILL THRIVING among todays amusement rides is the steady, sky-soaring
Ferris wheel. Dotting the landscape in 36 countries worldwide
are Ferris wheels made by Eli Bridge Co., Inc., Jacksonville,
Big Eli wheels reach heights of 60 ft. (18.3 m). Because of
the way theyre built and the type of seat that youre in, when
come over the top, you have this wonderful thrill that there is
nothing under you, says Eli Bridge President and CEO Patty Sullivan,
a member of ASTM Committee F24 on Amusement Rides and Devices.
Over 1,200 Eli wheels have sold since 1900; some are owned by
celebrities or used as film props. Dolly Parton purchased a Big
Eli wheel for Dollywood, her theme park in Tennessee. Michael
Jackson bought one equipped with thousands of chasing lights for
his amusement park in California. Pat Boone rode one of our wheels
in State Fair, Elvis Presley in Roustabout, and Drew Barrymore
in First Kiss, says Sullivan.
Her great-grandfather, W. E. Sullivan, devised the first Eli wheel
in 1900. An original owner of Eli Bridge, he built bridges until
he rode a 264 ft. (80.5 m) high Ferris wheel at the 1893 Chicago
Worlds Fair. He spent a months worth of groceries on two rides
at 50 cents each, she adds.
He was understandably inspired by the wheel. Made by Pittsburgh,
Pa., bridge builder George Ferris, it was 825 ft. (251 m) in circumference
and dangled 36 cars that each held 60 people. Too large to mass
produce, it ran on two 1000-horsepower (170 kW) reversible engines,
and weighed 4800 tons (4400 Mg).
With typical gay 90s industriousness, W. E. decided to invent
a portable Ferris wheel that could be assembled by touring carnivals.
With the help of machinist James Clements, he presented the worlds
first to Jacksonville on May 23, 1900. Sullivan says her great-grandfathers
wheels had interchangeable parts before they appeared on Henry
In 100 years, the company sold over 1200 wheels and added Scramblers
and kiddie rides to their production line. W. E.s son, Lee, was
Bridges second president; grandson, Lee Jr., is third president
and current chairman of the board.
Fourth generation president Sullivan brings a legacy of expertise
to the amusement ride standards she helps to develop as vice chair
of ASTM Subcommittee F24.24 on Design and Manufacture. She participates
on Bridges design team, has an MBA from Western Illinois University,
Macomb, and previously assembled rides on tour.
Eli Bridge is celebrating their centennial year. We have a terrific
crew of people here, she says of Bridges 30 employees. They
recently won the Industry of the Year Award from the business
community of Jacksonville.