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George Ferris: How a farmer's son invented the best ride on Earth

George Ferris, Jr., the inventor of the Ferris wheel, was born 154 years ago today. Google is celebrating his birthday – and the arrival of Valentine's Day – with a two-in-one doodle. 

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The Google doodle today was inspired by the inventor of the ferris wheel – and the spirit of Valentine's Day.

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The Google homepage today depicts the jagged skyline of a bustling, colorful carnival. Click on the heart button at the bottom of the doodle, and a pair of Ferris wheels spin, eventually yielding cartoon portraits of animal odd couples – a duck and a lovestruck octopus, for instance, or a tiger and an infatuated horse. The whole production is a kind of two-in-one homage, first to Valentine's Day and second to George Ferris, Jr., the inventor of the Ferris wheel. 

We're familiar with Valentine's Day, of course. But what about Mr. Ferris? Well, the inventor was born 154 years ago today as the son of two farmers in the small city of Galesburg, Ill. 

Later, Mr. Ferris signed on at Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute in Troy, N.Y., where he eventually earned a degree in civil engineering, with a specialty in bridge and railroad work. (Senior thesis title: "Review of Wrought Iron Deck Bridge on the Boston Hoosac Tunnel & Western Railway at Schaghticoke, N.Y.") 

In the late 1880s, he opened his own Pittsburgh-based company, G.W.G. Ferris & Co., and made a living building tunnels and train lines.

But Ferris was ambitious and creative, and he yearned to leave his mark on the world. He had paid close attention to the unveiling of the Eiffel Tower, at the Paris Exhibition of 1889. He decided he would design something to outdo even that grand spire, and he began sketching plans for an "observation wheel," which he hoped would appear at the World's Columbian Exhibition of 1893. 

At first the committee dismissed him as a "crackpot," but after apparently convincing a few of his fellow engineers to vouch for his plans, Ferris returned and saw his scheme accepted.   

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