The big wheel of Paris

The big wheel of Paris

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Title: The big wheel of Paris.

Author : DORFINANT Albert (1881 - 1976)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 80 - Width 62.5

Technique and other indications: Handcoloured lithograph on paper Printed by KAHN Fils, 12 bould St Martin, Paris Advertising poster for my Paris Ferris Wheel between 1900 and 1923.

Storage place: MuCEM website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Picture reference: 05-509362 / 38.17.1E

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: July 2007

Historical context

The Universal Exhibition: From industry to mass leisure

In 1855, the first Universal Exhibition was held in Paris, four years after that in London, crowned by the construction of the Crystal Palace. These "great celebrations of modernity" represent important economic and political challenges. In 1900, Alfred Picard (1844-1913) was commissioner general of the Exhibition and subsequently wrote a remarkable 6-volume report: The balance sheet of a century. This event corresponds to the moment when the places of organized entertainment are multiplying, and the capital then inherits a rich architectural heritage: the Palace of Industry, fruit of the Universal Exhibition of 1855 is replaced by the Grand Palais, which faces the Petit Palais, architecture of industrial luxury. These events attract an impressive number of tourists hungry for knowledge.

Image Analysis

The victory of leisure

The promotion is made to come and discover the wheel, presented here as a Parisian institution. Built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900 avenue de Suffren, near Champs de Mars, not far from the Eiffel Tower. The title, "The Big Wheel of Paris", in the foreground and in red letters, the crowd rushing to access it and the Eiffel Tower almost hidden away, make it possible to realize how the building of the wheel was an event. It marked the spirits by its size: 106 m in height, by its weight: 650 tons but above all by the movement which makes it possible to transport nearly 1600 passengers to the sky in railway wagons. The fascination with speed, the ability to take off from the ground, the combination of electricity and mechanics bring new sensations and emotions.
Three universal exhibitions are evoked here with the Trocadéro Palace on the Chaillot hill dating from 1878, the Eiffel Tower completed for 1889 and in the foreground, the Grande Roue de Paris dating from 1900. We see a sketch of the arcades of the machine building and the text alludes to the Galerie des Machines which then bordered the Champs-de-Mars. At the foot of the attraction, a theater and restaurant attest to the entertainment and cultural dimension of the location.
Right in front of the oversized wheel, at the top, a crowned and winged victory, hands us a laurel wreath and carries a palm. Combining the symbols of triumph and ascension, it guarantees, almost like an ex-voto, reliability in new technologies. Effigy of immortality and glory, it enshrines the mythical belief in progress and reassuringly embodies the promise of being able to overcome the conditions of the place. The Ferris wheel was demolished in 1937 and the Swiss Village still stands today.


The Universal Exhibition as a source of inspiration for the funfair

The obvious model of the fairground wheel is that of the Chicago Ferris Wheel, a feat of engineering with its 82 m diameter, accommodating up to 2,160 people, it introduced history at the World's Fair of 1893. Whether at the Vienna Prater, in London or in Paris, panoramic wheels were the object of a real craze at the end of the 19th century.e century. In 1900, that of Paris supplanted the others by its size. The capital looks like a huge amusement park spanning nearly 12 hectares and welcomes around 50 million visitors.
Universal exhibitions are undeniable models for fairground builders. For example, the facade of the Demeyer carrousel-salon is inspired by that of the electricity pavilion, and the "moving walk" is taken from the 1900 exhibition in the carousel-salons. Optical games such as the Maréorama and the bodywork of the grand merry-go-rounds are inspired by the models and novelties presented at the Universal Exhibitions, frequented by the fairgrounds. The same is true of the Ferris wheel which, from the 1930s, will be used on fairgrounds, from small Russian swings for children to very large wheels that have become itinerant. The transition to XXe century confirms the full transformation of urban leisure. The use of electricity, gas and new industrial techniques are leading the whole of society towards mass consumption, including leisure.

  • fun fair
  • Universal exhibitions
  • Paris
  • industrial Revolution
  • Eiffel Tower
  • city
  • London
  • Palace of Electricity
  • innovation


Zeev GOURARIEROnce upon a time there was a fun fair ... from A to Z, from 1850 to 1950exhibition at the Grande Halle de la Villette, September 18, 1995 - January 14, 1996 Paris, editions RMN, 1995 Anne RASMUSSEN and Brigitte SCHROEDER The splendours of progress: the guide to world exhibitionsParis, 1992.The book of universal exhibitions, 1851-1989Exhibition catalog, Central Union of Decorative Arts, 1983, Paris, Herscher.

To cite this article

Valérie RANSON-ENGUIALE, "The big wheel of Paris"

Video: Ferris Wheel in Paris France