When the first modern human built the first permanent structure, it was fated that a rival would not rest until he had erected a larger one. We love big things, we’re fascinated with huge things, and we’re left in awe of massive things. But sometimes even the most massive of man-made objects becomes lost to time because of disaster or necessity.
10 The Great Wheel
Sure mankind loves big things, but we also love fun. We also happen to love money, and every once in a while, nostalgic childlike playfulness and the drive for money combine to create the colorful and often sticky environments known as carnivals. Carnivals and fairs are excellent venues for temporary structures large and small because the venues themselves are, of course, temporary.
The grandest of all fairs in the world are the aptly named World’s Fairs; the Eiffel Tower was constructed specifically for the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris. Fast-forward to the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, and fair officials realized that their venue needed their own answer to the Eiffel tower. The Ferris Wheel was born.
While the Ferris Wheel might seem commonplace in today’s world of advanced engineering, the competition to build the largest Ferris Wheel still remains heated. Today, the London Eye stands as a testament to this ideology as a past holder of this prestigious title, but that wasn’t the capital city’s first attempt. The Great Wheel was the world’s tallest Ferris Wheel for a period of five years from 1895 to 1900.
Built for the Empire of India exhibition, it stood a mammoth 94 meters (308 ft) tall and could carry 40 passengers in a single car (it also had 40 cars). Riding the Great Wheel took 20 minutes for a full revolution.
The wheel carried an estimated half a million passengers in its lifetime before being disassembled for financial reasons in 1907 by the very engineers who built it. No matter how fun something may be, it’s not fun when you’re losing money on it.
9 SS Great Eastern
Though the SS Great Eastern didn’t have a wheel quite the size of London’s, its paddle wheel was probably large enough to double as a Ferris wheel at most local fairs. Yet it still managed to look relatively small on this awe-inspiringly huge oceangoing vessel.
The massive steamship the Great Eastern was born from the sketches of the brilliantly named Englishman Isambard Kingdom Brunel and was brought to life in 1858. When it was launched, the Great Eastern was so big it was initially christened Leviathan. She was a staggering six times larger than any existing naval vessel at the time, and her reign as largest in the world at just about 210 meters (700 ft) wasn’t bested for another four decades.
The ship required three months to get afloat and bankrupted the company that originally owned it. Further problems followed; a boiler explosion hindered her first voyage and bankrupted her second owners in 1859, and in 1862, she struck an uncharted rock in New York Harbor, bankrupting yet another company as a result.
The massive vessel relinquished her passenger duties and took up the vital task of linking continents via trans-Atlantic telegraph cables from 1866 to 1874. But despite her valiant efforts, she was scrapped in 1888 after spending her final years as a floating billboard in Milford Haven, Wales. When her skin was removed during scrapping, it was rumored that a human skeleton was found trapped within her double hull and that the ship’s misfortunes were a result of a curse. While this is most likely an urban legend, it would explain why the SS Great Eastern never found the glory that she deserved in her troubled lifetime.
8 Tsar Tank
The intriguing events that led to the Tsar Tank began in 1914, when Russian engineer Nikolai Lebedenko dreamed up a tank with 8-meter (27 ft) diameter wheels that could clear almost any obstacle imaginable. Nicholas II enthusiastically funded the project. The story goes that Lebedenko demonstrated the tank to the Tsar himself with a small wooden model traversing stacked books, instantly convincing Nicholas II.
In 1915, during a maiden test in front of high-ranking military officials, the mighty obstacle that brought down the hulking Tsar Tank was nothing more than a simple mixture of earth and water, known commonly as “mud.” Lebedenko was determined to rectify the problem by adding bigger engines to the chassis, but the fate of the Tsar Tank was sealed. It was simply too expensive to develop any further, and the only example of this strange and mighty tank sat bogged down in the mud all throughout World War I until 1923 when it was ultimately scrapped. No matter how grand your ideas might be, first impressions truly are everything.