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George Ferris makes a memorable appearance in Erik Larson's 'Devil in the White City'

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(Read caption) George Ferris won a contest to design a monument for the 1893 World's Fair that was supposed to rival the Eiffel Tower, as depicted in Erik Larson's book 'Devil in the White City.'

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The Devil in the White City,” Erik Larson’s 2003 nonfiction bestseller, is a strange blend of true stories. The book combines two unlikely tales: the story of a notorious serial killer and the narrative of how the 1893 World’s Fair came to be.

But one of the best surprises of “The Devil in the White City" is the account of how George Ferris designed his famous wheel for the Chicago World’s Fair.

George Ferris, born George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., grew up in Galesburg, Ill., and Carson Valley, Nev.,. He started working on railroads after college and his company, G.W.G. Ferris & Co., which was based in Pennsylvania, focused on ensuring the safety of the metals used in bridges and railroad tracks.

Ferris enters Larson’s narrative when the author discusses the contest held by the organizers of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago (then known as the World’s Columbian Exposition, since it was to be the first held in America). The fair’s directors wanted one of America’s engineers to create a structure for the event that would be grander than the Eiffel Tower. (The French monument was, at that time, something of a thorn in the side of the US architectural community, which yearned to build something more remarkable.)

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