Eli Bridge Company

Eli Bridge Company
Status Active
Jacksonville, Illinois, USA
Founded 1906
Key people William E. Sullivan; James Clements
Website http://www.elibridge.com/

Eli Bridge Company is an amusement ride design and manufacturing company located in Jacksonville, Illinois, USA.[1] Eli Bridge is most known for the creation of various Ferris wheels through the years, in addition to the Scrambler ride which debuted in 1955.


A portrait of a middle aged William E. Sullivan in a 1900's style tuxedo.
William E. Sullivan (July 3, 1861 - October 15, 1932)[2]

Eli Bridge Company began operation as an actual bridge building company helmed by William E. Sullivan in the late 1890s in the southern Illinois city of Jacksonville. Joining William was machinist James H. Clements.

The 1893 Epiphany

In 1893, William E. Sullivan, also known as W.E. Sullivan,[3] attended the Chicago World's Fair (also known as the Columbian Exposition),[4] which ran from May 1, 1893 through October 30, 1893 in Chicago, Illinois. While at the exposition, Sullivan brushed shoulders with the likes of George Washington Gale Ferris, the father of the Ferris Wheel. Intrigued by the invention, Sullivan took a ride on Mr. Ferris' famous wheel that would alter the course of his life and that of multiple generations of his family for years to come.[5]

The Big Wheel

On March 23, 1900 William E. Sullivan and James H. Clements began construction of the first of what would become generations worth of portable Ferris wheels that would be known as Eli Wheels. On May 23, 1900 Sullivan and Clements debuted their now famous Big Eli portable ferris wheel at Central Park's Jacksonville Square in Jacksonville, Illinois.[3][5][6]


In 1906, Sullivan and Clements formally incorporated the Eli Bridge Company. Mass production of a variety of different models of Eli Wheels was begun, enabled by new investors. In 1919, this allowed the Eli Bridge company to move its headquarters to 800 Case Avenue in Jacksonville, Illinois where multiple expansions over the decades have allowed for a total of 76,000 square feet of manufacturing and office spaces.[5] So successful was this endeavor that by 1952, the company had produced its 1,000th wheel.[7]

The Scrambler

In 1955 Eli Bridge revealed what would become one of the most popular flat ride attractions the world over, the Scrambler. The Scrambler proved to be a popular attraction. In the 1970s some Scramblers were even enclosed in domed structures and given soundtracks and light shows to enhance the ride. However, even without the added scenery the ride has remained a favorite since its debut in Jacksonville, Illinois in the mid 1950s.[3][5][7]

Present Day

A black and white image featuring a man and a woman look up at a 65 foot tall Eli Bridge Ferris Wheel that is traveling the fairgrounds of the United States. The wheel once belonged to Michael Jackson.
Michael Jackson's Wheel by Eli Bridge on the Fairground circuit in the United States

By the 1990s Eli Bridge was continuing its success across the global market. In the 90s, the company was commissioned by American pop superstar Michael jackson to create a 65 foot Eli Wheel for his Neverland Ranch. Following Jackson's departure from Neverland Ranch, the wheel was sold to Archway Amusements. Archway Amusements continues to operate the ride in traveling fair circuits where ride enthusiasts and fans of Jackson pose for pictures, and share memories of the now deceased musician.[8] In addition to Jackson's wheel, many other wheels and scramblers have been featured in a variety of movie and television productions around the world.

Today the Eli Bridge Company continues on as the oldest manufacturer of amusement rides in the United States and is still owned and operated by the Sullivan family generations later.[5] According to the company, over 1,400 Wheels are currently in operation today.[3]



  1. Yancey, Jessy (2014-02-20). "Eli Bridge Co. Rides High Thanks to Wheels of Fortune". Illinois Farm Bureau Partners (in English). Retrieved 2024-05-21.
  2. "William E. Sullivan". Findagrave.com. July 26, 2011. Retrieved February 2, 2022.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Liebenson, Donald (July 8, 2002). "A town of big wheels". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 18, 2022.
  4. "World's Columbian Exposition". Encyclopedia Britannica. February 1, 2019. Retrieved January 18, 2022.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 "History". Eli Bridge Company. 2022. Retrieved 2022. {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  6. "History of Jacksonville". City of Jacksonville, Illinois. 2022. Retrieved January 18, 2022.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Samuelson, Dale; Yegoiants, Wendy (2001). The American Amusement Park. MBI Publishing Company. p. 86. ISBN 9780760309810.
  8. "Michael Jackson's Ferris Wheel Spins Into New Life". Al.com. Associated Press. September 21, 2009. Retrieved January 18, 2022.