George Washington Ferris built the first Ferris wheel for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The organizers wanted a monument to surpass the Eiffel Tower, built for the 1889 Paris International Exposition. The first Ferris wheel carried 1-1/2 million visitors, each paying 50 cents for a 20-minute ride.
George Washington Ferris spent the next two years in litigation with the fair’s organizers for his portion of the profits. He died in 1896 when he was only 37 years old. On May 11, 1906, the wheel was dynamited and scrapped.
He is sometimes confused with another George Ferris: http://nsla.nevadaculture.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=675&Itemid=95