HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) — Hersheypark has been open for 116 years. Within that time many rides have come and gone from the park. One of those rides would have turned 50 years old this year if it was still operating at the park.
Opening in 1973, the Giant Wheel brought a new era to Hersheypark. Back in the early and mid-1970s, Hersheypark was undergoing a massive renovation. This renovation was to be done in phases. According to the Amusement Parkives, Phase I was to be the renovation and inclusion of Carrousel Circle. But Phase II would bring something that was a little more ‘giant.’
The ride was one of the very first ‘double wheel’ models created by manufacturer Waagner-Biro and designed by Intamin, the same designer of Hersheypark’s Storm Runner, Fahrenheit, and Skyrush roller coasters.
The ride opened to the public in 1973 and was considered to be part of Phase II of the multi-year renovation project that the park was performing.
The ride was massive, with two large wheels holding 12 gondolas each. that could fit up to 8 people each. Each wheel was attached to a large crossbeam, which connected the two wheels. The ride featured red and white gondolas on one wheel and blue and white gondolas on the other. In the middle of the wheels was the iconic Hersheypark pinwheel. This was changed on one of the wheels to feature the Giant Food Stores logo in its later years as they were a sponsor of the park.
The ride would operate with one wheel performing its ride cycle as the other wheel was loading and unloading guests. This was done with the use of the cross beam. As one ‘arm’ rose, the other lowered. This unique operating cycle allowed thousands of guests to enjoy the attraction each hour.
As the ride was cycling showing guests views of the park and surrounding area, guests in the gondolas could spin them, similar to how a teacup ride works. This gave the added thrill of spinning while being nearly 100 feet in the air.
During Hersheypark’s Christmas Candylane, one of the wheels would be positioned at its full height, with the Star of Bethlehem being shown at the top.
Unfortunately, the manufacturer stopped producing parts for the attraction which made replacing parts for the ride difficult. Because of this, and other reasons, the ride was dismantled at the end of the 2004 season, after being in operation for over 30 years. None of these ‘double wheels’ are in existence today.
Hersheypark has kept the memory of the attraction alive. In 2022, Hersheypark offered merchandise to remember the giant wheel. In 2021 the park opened its new restaurant, The Chocolatier. On the patio, many parts of Hersheypark’s defunct rides are on display, which includes a gondola from the Giant Wheel. Guests are able to sit inside and relive the memories of what was once a classic Hersheypark attraction.