Sunday, February 17, 2019


Marker Details

Historical Marker:

Big Eli Wheel No. 17

The marker is located in the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce Park which is at the corner of Main and Morgan Streets. It occupies the grounds of the old mental institution. The marker is located right next to the actual Ferris Wheel.
Dedication Date:
Dedication By:
Save the Wheel Commission and The Illinois State Historical Society

Marker Description:
"I have discovered the machine I want to design and build, a portable 'Ferris Wheel'". W.E. Sullivan, 1893.

A young man's dream became reality when W. E. Sullivan, of Roodhouse, Illinois, designed and built a small, portable, revolving wheel, patterned after the 'Ferris Wheel' at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He called his invention, "Big Eli."

On May 23, 1900, in the square of downtown Jacksonville, "Big Eli"a 45' high wheel made of twelve structural steel spokes with carriage seats at their extremities, and supported by a steel axle, offered rides to all who dared to revolve in the bridge-like contraption. It grossed $5.56 that day.

"Big Eli No, 17" was constructed in 1907 and was the 17th "wheel" built by Mr. Sullivan's manufacturing concern, Eli Bridge Company.

"Big Eli No, 17" thrilled crowds at amusement parks in Duluth, MN; Leavenworth, KS; San Antonio, TX; Guaymas, Mexico; and, Miami, FL. In 1957, No, 17 returned home to the Eli Bridge Company for renovation. Originally built with 10 seats, No. 17 was converted to a "12 seater" and sold to the Jacksonville Rotary Club. Rotary installed No. 17 in Nichols Park and operated it there until increased insurance costs forced its closure in 1985.

In 1986, the Rotary Club donated the "Big Eli No. 17" to the City of Jacksonville. With the assistance of Eli Bridge Company, and private donations, the structure was renovated and re-erected at its present site.

Big Eli No. 1 stands in the front yard of the Eli Bridge Company.

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