On Sept. 30, 2019, a new attraction opened in downtown St. Louis, Mo. – the St. Louis Wheel, a 200-foot tall observation wheel located at the historic Union Station.
By Tom Varner
Sitting on the southwest corner of the former train station complex, the Wheel is the biggest attraction in downtown St. Louis since the Gateway Arch. The Wheel offers a new perspective on St. Louis, offering riders a view spanning 20 miles in every direction.
The Wheel has 42 climate-controlled gondolas that provide riders with a constant comfortable temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit. It makes one full rotation every two minutes, 30 rotations an hour, and each ride experience lasts about 15 minutes. One of the gondolas is specially designed for VIPs, with leather seats and a glass floor on the inside, as well as a free souvenir photo.
There are over 1.6 million LED lights on the Wheel, which can generate over 16 million different colors and patterns. For a fee, the wheel can be lighted up in wedding colors, school colors, or in blue or pink for the ultimate baby gender reveal. The Wheel also offers special bookings for Scout trips, school tours, corporate outings, and birthday parties.
The total weight of the attraction, including the base, is over 640,000 pounds. That’s more than the weight of two full-grown blue whales.
Although it’s the newest and hottest attraction in St. Louis, the Wheel connects deeply to St. Louis history, starting with Union Station itself.
Named a National Historic Landmark in 1970, St. Louis Union Station was designed by architect Theodore Link and opened in 1894. In its heyday, Union Station greeted more than 100,000 travelers per day and had 22 different railroad companies moving in and out of its terminals. It was the largest and busiest train station in the world when it opened and remained the busiest train station in the U.S. until the 1920s.
Located near the center of the country and with the busiest train station in the world, it was only fitting that St. Louis was chosen as the site of both the 1904 World’s Fair and Summer Olympics.
One of the most iconic and loved attractions at the 1904 World’s Fair was the original Ferris Wheel. That wheel originally made its debut at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and was a massive success. It was then dismantled and reopened in 1895 as an amusement attraction near Lincoln Park in Chicago. In 1903, the Ferris Wheel was dismantled again and transported to St. Louis for the 1904 World’s Fair.
As it had been the case over a decade before in Chicago, the Ferris Wheel was one of the most popular attractions at the St. Louis Fair. It was 264 feet tall and had 36 wooden cars, with each car being large enough to carry 60 people. The 1904 World’s Fair Ferris Wheel was more than 120 feet taller than that, and would have been a giant on the St. Louis skyline.
At least 80 people were married inside of the cars during the time of the Fair. A ride lasted two revolutions and cost 50 cents. The 1904 Ferris Wheel was eventually demolished with dynamite in 1906 although there’s an urban legend that parts of the wheel remain buried somewhere in Forest Park.
The new St. Louis Wheel pays homage to the 1904 Ferris Wheel and is a part of a multi-year $187 million dollar renovation and revitalization of Union Station. In addition to the Wheel, guests can enjoy rides on a 36-foot wide carousel, play a round on an 18-hole miniature golf course, or watch a fire and light show that plays daily. Guests to the Wheel can stay at the St. Louis Union Station Hotel, a AAA Four-Diamond Hotel that is part of the Curio Collection by Hilton.
In December, the Wheel will be joined by the St. Louis Aquarium. The 120,000-square-foot, two-story aquarium will be the home to more than 13,000 animals including sharks, rays, piranhas, and sea otters. The aquarium will be a highly interactive attraction that will allow visitors to learn about and explore the oceans, rivers, and lakes of the world and leave with their hands wet.
The St. Louis Wheel is operated by ICON Attractions and has a twin wheel, The Capital Wheel, at National Harbor near Washington, D.C.
For more information about the St. Louis Wheel, or to purchase tickets, visit www.TheStLouisWheel.com.