The Wonder Wheel is truly a wonder. It is in the heart of the world famous Coney Island Amusement Park, and has enjoyed a place on the National Register of Historic Places since 1984. In 1989, together with the neighboring Parachute Jump, it was given the status of an official New York city Landmark.
The ride opened to the public on Memorial Day in 1920. It was created by a Romanian-born ride engineer called Charles Herman. Herman wanted to make a ride which had the combined characteristics of a Ferris wheel, scenic railway, and a Chute-the-Chutes, which he accomplished.
Herman’s son Fred took the ride over when Herman passed away, but by 1980 he was ready to sell.
Constantinos Dionysios “Deno” Vourderis became the third owner of the Wonder Wheel. Born in Aigion, Greece the same year the Wonder Wheel opened, he was the eighth child of 22 in his family. He came to the US in 1934, and started selling hot dogs from a pushcart in Manhattan.
The story goes that Deno proposed to his not-yet wife in front of the Wonder Wheel in 1948. He promised her that one day he would not only own the Wonder Wheel, but he would also give her “a ring so big, everyone in the world would see how much he loved her – a ring that would never be lost.”
Because of this story, and the subsequent countless marriage proposals and newlywed rides at the Wonder Wheel, the ride is known as “the most romantic ride in the world.”
Deno took a job repairing the kiddie rides in Coney Island at the end of the 1970s. On June 7, 1983 Deno realized his dream and purchased the Wonder Wheel for $250,000. The ride did not come with a “user’s manual,” but instead with a handwritten note on the back of a carton of cigarettes wishing Deno, “Good Luck!” At that moment the ride became known as “Deno’s Wonder Wheel.”
The Wheel is still run by Deno’s family, and is the pinnacle of what is known as Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park. The ride has already given people 35 million rides over the years, with 40 million approaching fast.