Eli Bridge Co.

A third-generation business brings the Big Eli to life


The 1893 Worlds’ Fair Columbian Exposition in Chicago was a showcase of firsts. The “real-live” Aunt Jemima cooked flapjacks to promote the first successful packaged pancake mix and many visitors got their first look at electricity. Rising above it all was the first Ferris Wheel.

A year earlier, fair organizers put out a challenge to create an attraction for the fair that would rival the Eiffel Tower, considered an engineering marvel. Galesburg, Illinois native George Washington Gale Ferris responded by building a colossal wheel that stood 264 feet tall and featured 36 cars, each of which could accommodate 64 people. The wheel revolved only twice during each 40-minute trip.

One of the people who rode the great Chicago wheel that year was W. E. Sullivan, a young bridge builder and inventor from Roodhouse, Illinois.

The giant Ferris Wheel in Chicago inspired Sullivan to build a smaller, portable wheel that could be taken to the people. Seven years later, on May 23, 1900, Sullivan unveiled his version in Jacksonville’s Central Park. A short time later he created Eli Bridge Co. and went into business building wheels.

Eli Bridge remains family-owned. Lee Sullivan, Chairman of the Board, is grandson of the founder and great-grandchildren Patty Sullivan and Bill Sullivan are both involved in the company.