Around the turn of the century, a Romanian-born amusement engineer named Charles Herman decided he wanted to create a ride that would combine the thrill of a scenic railway, Ferris wheel and Chute-the-Chutes. From this, the Wonder Wheel was born. (Initially, it was to be called the “Dip-the-Dip.”)
The wondrous ride opened to the public at Coney Island on Memorial Day in 1920. The addition of the name “Deno” didn’t come for another 60 years. When Herman died, the operation of the ride was turned over to his son Fred. Fred maintained the wheel and even created his own ride, the “Spook a Rama” which operates nearby the Wonder Wheel to this day. Fred wanted out of the business by the 1980s but had trouble finding someone to take over the business. Enter Deno D. Vourderis.
Constantinos Dionysios “Deno” Vourderis was born in Aigion, Greece in 1920. He was the eighth of 22 children. He emigrated to the US at the age of 14 and later was given a peddler’s license by the US government. His first job was selling hot dogs from a pushcart in Manhattan.
Deno proposed to his future wife Lula in front of the Wonder Wheel in 1948, promising her that he would someday own the ride and give her “a ring so big, everyone in the world would see how much he loved her – a ring that would never be lost.” The Wonder Wheel is still the site of countless proposals and newlywed rides, being dubbed “the most romantic ride in the world.”
Deno used his mechanical knowledge to land a job fixing and maintaining the kiddie rides at Coney Island in the late 70s. On June 7, 1983, Deno’s dream come true; he bought the Wheel for $250,000. There were no operating instructions for the ride, only a handwritten note on the back of a carton of cigarettes that said, “Good Luck.” From that moment on it was known as Deno’s Wonder Wheel.
Since Deno’s death in 1994 his two sons and their extended family still run the Wonder Wheel and the other amusements that make up Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park. The park has become a true institution of Coney Island, creating the many rituals that make it a one-of-a-kind place.
The Wonder Wheel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and five years later it, along with its neighbor the Parachute Jump, was designated an official New York City landmark. In 2016 Deno’s Wonder Wheel celebrated its 95th continuous year of operation. Since its debut it has provided over 35 million rides, with the 40 million mark approaching fast.