Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the London Eye opened in 2001. It opened in 2000. The story also stated that the Capital Wheel can carry more people than the London Eye. It can carry more per hour than the Eye. The story has been updated.
It’s the new kid on the block of must-visit sites in the Washington area. The Capital Wheel, a large Ferris wheel built on the Potomac River’s Maryland shore, opens on Friday.
As many as 336 riders fit onboard the wheel’s 42 cars for the 12-to-15-minute sightseeing thrill. To the north, riders will see the Washington Monument and other area landmarks. To the west, they’ll see planes zooming in and out of Reagan National Airport. Below, they’ll see the piers and shops of National Harbor, where the wheel has been under construction since January. One of the cars, which are called gondolas, has a glass floor!
“You go almost 200 feet up above the river. The views are spectacular,” said Gabriel Sloane, the senior project engineer.
Views of the wheel will be just as awesome. “There are 1.6 million LED lights on this thing, which is pretty cool,” Sloane said. “Kids are going to love that.” More than 16 million color schemes can be programmed into the light shows.
A number of Ferris wheels have popped up in recent years. One of the most famous is the London Eye, which opened in 2000 and is one of Britain’s most popular paid tourist attractions.
The Capital Wheel is about half as big as London’s, but it can carry more people per hour (The Eye rotates more slowly). Ticket prices start at $11.25.
Erecting the wheel during the harsh winter was a challenge. Barges carrying the steel framework and large crane took longer to make it from Baltimore because the Potomac and parts of the Chesapeake Bay were frozen for three weeks. Workers hustled to make up the lost time.
The wheel will operate year-round — unless Mother Nature has other plans.
When a young engineer proposed building a large steel wheel for visitors to ride at the 1893 Chicago world’s fair, people said he was nuts.
But George Ferris held onto his dream. His wheel, like the new one at National Harbor, was built during a wicked winter. The ground was frozen three feet deep. Workers had to pipe in steam to thaw it. Four months later, the first riders climbed aboard what soon was called the Ferris wheel. Its 36 cars held 2,160 people. It was lit by 3,000 of Thomas Edison’s new light bulbs.
At 264 feet, it was the tallest such structure ever built. Nine other wheels have since claimed that title. The current record holder, which opened in Nevada in March, rises 550 feet.
After the Chicago fair, the Ferris wheel was moved and later demolished. It took 200 pounds of dynamite to bring it down.
For information on the Capital Wheel, visit www.thecapitalwheel.com.