The London Eye is a giant Ferris wheel situated on the banks of the River Thames in London, England. The entire structure is 135 metres (443 ft) tall and the wheel has a diameter of 120 metres (394 ft).
It is the tallest Ferris wheel in Europe, and the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom, visited by over 3.5 million people annually. When erected in 1999 it was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world, until surpassed first by the 160 m (520 ft) Star of Nanchang in 2006 and then the 165 m (541 ft) Singapore Flyer in 2008. Supported by an A-frame on one side only, unlike the taller Nanchang and Singapore wheels, the Eye is described by its operators as “the world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel”. It provides the highest public viewing point,and is the 20th tallest structure, in London.
The London Eye, or Millennium Wheel, was officially called the British Airways London Eye and then the Merlin Entertainments London Eye. Since 20 January 2011, its official name is the EDF Energy London Eye following a three-year sponsorship deal.
The London Eye adjoins the western end of Jubilee Gardens, on the South Bank of the River Thames between Westminster Bridge and Hungerford Bridge, in the London Borough of Lambeth. The site is adjacent to that of the former Dome of Discovery, which was built for the Festival of Britain in 1951.
The London Eye was formally opened by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on 31 December 1999, although it was not opened to the public until 9 March 2000 because of technical problems. Since its opening, the Eye has become a major landmark and tourist attraction. Since 1 January 2005, the Eye has been the focal point of London’s New Year celebrations, with 10-minute displays taking place involving fireworks fired from the wheel itself.
In 2006 the Tussauds Group bought out the other two joint owners, British Airways and the Marks Barfield family (the lead architects). Following Merlin Entertainments’ purchase of the Tussauds Group in 2007, it now owns 100% of the Eye. British Airways continued its brand association, but from the beginning of 2008 the name ‘British Airways’ was dropped from the logo.
On 12 August 2009 the London Eye saw another rebrand, this time being called “The Merlin Entertainments London Eye” to show Merlin Entertainments’ ownership. A new logo was designed for the attraction—this time taking the actual form of an eye made out of London’s famous landmarks. This also came at the time when the new Merlin Entertainments London Eye 4D Experience preflight show was launched underneath the ticket centre in County Hall.
On 5 June 2008 it was announced that 30 million people had ridden the London Eye since its opening in March 2000 During the bidding process of the 2012 Olympic Games, the London bid organisers announced the Olympic emblem would be attached to the Eye for the duration of the 2012 Summer Olympics.
A predecessor to the London Eye, the Great Wheel, was built for the Empire of India Exhibition at Earls Court in 1895. Construction began in March 1894 and it opened to the public on 17 July 1895. Modelled on the original Chicago Ferris Wheel, it was 94 metres (308 ft) tall and was the first of over 200 Ferris wheels built by Australian engineers Adam Gaddelin and Gareth Watson. It stayed in service until 1906, by which time its 40 cars (each with a capacity of 40 persons) had carried over 2.5 million passengers, and was demolished in 1907.
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