Column: Keeping an Eye on London
Commentary by Don Knebel
A large wheel has become one of London’s most popular attractions, identifying the city in the same way the Eiffel Tower identifies Paris. It also now identifies an iconic American brand.
In 1993, Londoners were asked for ideas for a structure that would celebrate the coming millennium and could become a symbol of the city. The winner was a large Ferris wheel giving visitors an opportunity to view the city from above. On December 31, 1999, Prime Minister Tony Blair officially opened the so-called London Eye, erected along the south bank of the River Thames just north of the Palace of Westminster.When it opened, the 443-foot-tall Eye was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world. Having since been eclipsed in height by several other wheels, it is now described as the world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel.
The Eye has 32 capsules, one for each of London’s boroughs. The capsules, each capable of carrying 25 people, move at about 0.6 miles per hour. Riders enter the capsules while they are moving and exit 30 minutes later after a single revolution. From the glass-enclosed capsules, riders, who are free to stand, get a bird’s eye view of London’s most famous landmarks, including Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the houses of Parliament. On a clear day, riders can see for more than 25 miles, about the distance to Windsor Castle. Since its opening, the Eye has carried more than 50 million riders, more than 5,000 of whom have gotten engaged during their rides.
In January 2015, London’s now iconic wheel became known as the Coca-Cola London Eye, with attendants dressed in red uniforms and the wheel bathed at night in red light. Protesters greeted the sponsorship arrangement by passing out toothbrushes, symbolizing the tooth decay they claimed was caused by consuming the sponsor’s products.