Rensselaer Alumni Magazine - Spring 2010 - (Page 5)
Ferris Wheel: A“Fantastic”History
any thanks for the article on Ferris and his wheel, from Richard Weingardt’s book [Circles in the Sky, Winter 2009-10]. It’s a far better story than I had heard, which was that Ferris was not graduated because his senior thesis, about a fantastic wheel, was considered silly and impractical. Then, that myth continued, he was granted an “honorary degree” after his wheel was successful at a Paris Exposition. The real story honors both him and RPI much better. Thanks, Mr. Weingardt, for your interesting research.
DICK (DUKE) ETTINGTON ’45 (V-12) AND ’47 Palos Verdes, Calif. happened to read the excerpted article from Richard Weingardt’s book Circles in the Sky in the Winter 2009-10 issue of Rensselaer alumni magazine two days before beginning to read Scott Meredith’s biography George S. Kaufman and his friends. With your article fresh in my mind, I ran across the following discrepancy. In your piece, you quote George Ferris as saying, “I got out some paper and began sketching it out. I fixed the size, determined the construction, the number of cars we would run, the number of people it would hold, what we would charge, the plan of stopping six times during the first revolution for loading, and then making a complete turn. In short, before the evening was over, I had sketched out almost the entire detail and my plan never varied an item from that day on.”
In the Meredith book, while describing an uncle of the title subject, the author states: “And a third brother, Gustave, was cofounder and coowner of the eminent engineering firm of Ferris and Kaufman, which built many of the country’s bridges. He also invented the Ferris wheel, but named it after his partner, because he and his family were ashamed of it. He continued to be ashamed of it for the rest of his life. When he died and the Times listed the wheel among his achievements, his widow wept with embarrassment at the association of the frivolous invention with the Kaufman name.” How do we reconcile these two conflicting statements? Hoping you can clarify this matter. STEPHEN SILLS, M.D. ’59 Longboat Key, Fla. Richard Weingardt’s response: The quote in my book that Stephen Sills mentions is a direct quote (of Ferris’ words) as they appeared in a well-read magazine by a respected writer who interviewed Ferris in 1893, when the Chicago fair was still under way. Kaufman is not the only one to unsuccessfully claim he invented the Ferris wheel. Many others tried and failed, and Ferris was even taken to court by one of them. Ferris won the lawsuit. Ferris graduated from RPI with a BSCE degree, and his senior paper was on a bridge (see Appendix D in my book for full details).
Of Folsom and Football ’ll be the first to admit that memory plays tricks on us, especially regarding things from as long ago as the 1960s. So, with modern technology assisting my own gray cells, I hope to fill in a few blanks about some of the people and events mentioned by fellow alumni in the Winter issue of the Rensselaer magazine. Richard Jerzyk couldn’t recall the name of the ’Tute president at that time [“Change for the Good at the ’Tute”]. That would have been Dr. Richard G. Folsom, a distinguished engineer and educator. Dr. Folsom’s career at RPI saw the introduction of curricula in nuclear engineering and computer science, and also the first women to attend the school. Granted, he wasn’t as accessible as President Jackson is today, but he did have one habit that endeared him to the student body: he was a loyal RPI football fan. He attended most every home game, always standing in the bleachers, always smiling, always cheering on the Engineers, win or lose.
Speaking of football, Jack Cholette remembered that the team’s infamous winless streak continued to ’67 [“Times Have Changed”]. The coaches, players, and other students from the era might respectfully disagree, since the real story couldn’t be more different. After wandering in the football wilderness for 43 straight games, Coach Dick Riendeau’s team ended the suffering with a thrilling 28-14 victory over Middlebury on Oct. 23, 1965. In ’66, the team had its first winning season since ’49, going 5-4! The ’67 squad posted a respectable 4-4 record. (The tie game Cholette mentions was a 20-20 effort against Nichols College, on Oct. 10, 1964.) So not only did we win, we won big, drawing national attention as a result. The crowning irony was that during the ’66 and ’67 seasons, the football team had a better record than the hockey team! All of the victories in the mid’60s were sweet, but none more so than the tide-turning ’65 win over Middlebury. Yes, those humongous cast-iron goalposts came crashing down. Legend has it President Folsom carted one off himself. You can look it up in your Transit yearbooks, and read more about RPI football history on this site: www.augenblick.org/rpi/f_04yr.html. Also, there’s a hilarious but heartwarming 1966 Sports Illustrated article about Riendeau and the team, “Supermice of Another Troy,” at: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/ vault/article/magazine/MAG10791 05/1/index.htm. Go Big Red! TOM HEINES ’68 Dallas, Texas.
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RENSSELAER/SPRING 2010 5
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rensselaer Alumni Magazine - Spring 2010
Rensselaer Alumni Magazine - Spring 2010
Making a Difference
A Decade of Transformation
One Last Thing
Rensselaer Alumni Magazine - Spring 2010