Paris had the Eiffel Tower, the U.S. had…
Well, there were some outlandish proposals, like a tower with cars attached to thick rubber bands, a forerunner of bungee jumping. Gustave Eiffel himself proposed an even bigger tower.
The World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago was being planned without a central landmark. The architect in charge, Daniel Burnham, challenged his engineers to think up “something novel, original, daring and unique.” One took up the challenge, one George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., who sketched a huge revolving wheel. That’s how we got the Ferris Wheel.
Of course, nothing in real life is ever that simple. But the June 2015 issue of Smithsonian magazine has a brief but excellent account of the first Ferris Wheel. You can also read it at their website: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/history-ferris-wheel-180955300/
Just in time for summer!