Centennial Wheel: What you need to know before you roll

Centennial Wheel: What you need to know before you roll
The Centennial Wheel. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Chicago’s newest landmark, the Centennial Wheel, already being called America’s next great Wheel, is a welcome addition to our second to none skyline.

The completion of the towering 200-foot wheel celebrates the 100th-year anniversary of Navy Pier—thus the name, “Centennial Wheel.”

It is only fitting that Chicago as the birthplace of the very first Ferris wheel, is home to this amazing structure that is a central part in Navy Pier’s Centennial Vision, which also includes Polk Bros Fountain and Plaza, new boat ramps, redevelopment of park space, new interiors, restaurants, a hotel, reconfiguration of entry roadways and more.

Demolition began on the original Navy Pier Ferris Wheel on September 28, 2015.

The challenges in building the new Centennial Wheel were many. In part, because of its size and location.

The new structure which is twice as heavy as its predecessor required a specific construction sequence utilizing two 250-ton cranes and one 100-ton crane. Typically with a smaller wheel a 500-ton crane would be brought in to erect the wheel’s spokes, legs and gondolas.

The James McHugh Construction Co. whose work includes Chicago icons such as Marina City, the Blackstone Hotel and Aqua Tower was brought in to handle the task. They needed to consider the load capacity of the 100-year old Pier and the location of the wheel on a slab over the parking garage.

View looking out of a gondola at the wheel's structure. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

View looking out of a gondola at the wheel’s structure. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Other challenges included the high and extreme winds that have to be taken into consideration when building a wheel that will be operating year-round in Chicago’s predictably changeable climate.

“It was a perfectly orchestrated ballet,” explained Tom Conroy, senior project manager for McHugh Construction. Conroy also explained how winds of 5 MPH in downtown could equate to more than 30 MPH on the Pier.

The Wheel officially opens to the public today at noon with a host of Grand Opening activities. The climate-controlled wheel is designed to keep passengers comfortable year round.

The views are spectacular–make sure to bring a camera. Here’s a preview.


Looking down on the tilt-a-whirl.

Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

The view from above, looking south.

Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Aerial view of Navy Pier and the lake looking east.

Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

View out the gondola window, looking north.

Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

A view of the inside of the roomy 8-passenger gondola.

Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

View from ground level.

npwheel14The typical Centennial ride lasts approximately 12 to 15 minutes for three complete revolutions of the wheel.

Free Rides

Free rides will be offered June 14 & 28 and August 9 & 23, 10 a.m. to noon.

Premium Wheel Experience                                                                                                                                                                                     (with special commemorative ticket)

Private four-person glass-bottom gondola, per person, $50
Private four-person glass-bottom gondola, per gondola, $200

Centennial Wheel Fast Pass

Hate waiting? Get a fast pass for $25


Nightly the Ferris wheel will be a beacon as it lights up Chicago’s skyline. Many special events, TBA, will be held in conjunction with the Wheel year-round.

About the Wheel

The nearly 200-foot wheel is 50 feet taller than its predecessor. It accommodates 420 passengers–180 more than the former wheel–and features 42 temperature controlled gondolas that enable it to be both comfortable and operational 365 days year.


525 Tons | Weight of Centennial Wheel, twice the weight of the former Ferris wheel
196 Feet | Height of Centennial Wheel
120 Feet | Length of each of the six legs of Wheel
36,000-60,000 Pounds | Weight of the six legs of Wheel
95 Feet | Length of each of 21 spokes on Wheel
500 | Cubic yards of concrete used
50 | Tons of steel used, not including Wheel
333,000 Pounds | Combined weight of the Wheel’s six main support columns and the axel
22,000 Pounds | Weight of each television screen on either side of the center axel
48,000 Pounds | Weight of the center axel, the heaviest crane load installed on Wheel
150 Feet | Depth of 8 micropiles installed below the Pier park to ground Wheel
500+ | Number of McHugh employees and subcontractors responsible for the build
50+ | Number of Chicagoland subcontractors engaged by McHugh for project
25,000+ | Total build hours
$26.5 Million | Total cost of Wheel + construction
5 | Number of cranes used to assemble Wheel
1.2 Million Pounds | Total lifting capacity of cranes used to assemble Wheel

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