“Trenton Makes, The World Takes”: this motto is etched on the Lower Trenton Bridge and the hearts of Trentonians far and near. The Lower Trenton Bridge is the first sight for many of our city’s visitors and perhaps the capital city’s most well-known landmark. But how did this beloved bridge come to be?
The Lower Trenton Bridge has taken many forms throughout its decades; the first iteration was created by the well-renowned inventor Theodore Burr. Burr was an engineer best known for his work on truss and covered bridges. His innovative arch structures have been utilized in bridges throughout the country and were a prominent feature of the bridge’s first formation. Originally dubbed the Trenton Bridge or the Delaware River Bridge, the largely-wooden structure was officially opened on January 30th, 1806. Before the bridge’s opening, river crossings were treacherously made via ferry. Thankfully, with the introduction of the bridge, transport in and out of the Capital City became a much safer affair.
The bridge functioned as a private toll bridge for 70 years until its initial closure in 1876. The first bridge was most notable for its distinct Pennsylvania truss configuration, laminated arches, and suspension from iron chains. This revolutionary architectural feat was only the nation’s second covered bridge and the first bridge to traverse the Delaware River. However, even before its current iconic form, the Lower Trenton Bridge has been host to great history-making details.
The bridge has undergone several renovations and reconfigurations over its storied existence, the first of which occurred in 1830. Next, modifications were made to allow locomotives to safely cross to and from Pennsylvania, making this bridge the first in the United States to be utilized for interstate commerce. From here, the Pennsylvania Railroad replaced the bridge with two iron spans, completed in 1876.
After several years of functioning as a railroad bridge, the Lower Trenton Bridge was officially opened to traffic in 1929. Although elements of the original bridge were still intact, multiple expansions and reinforcements were made over the year to keep the structure strong. Perhaps the most famous renovation, however, was the addition of the beloved “Trenton Makes, The World Takes” signage.
The original Trenton Makes bridge launched in 1917, where the iconic phrase was spelled out with 2,400 incandescent lightbulbs. This came on the heels of the Trenton Chamber of Commerce declaring this phrase our city’s official moniker in 1910. This phrase represented the many thriving Trenton industries, including steel, rubber, linoleum, ceramics, and more. The first neon sign was added to the bridge in 1935 and has been replaced several times. The current lettering was added to the bridge in 2005 and was recently revamped in 2018 with color-changing LED bulbs. In total, the bridge can now create over 16 million color combinations! Requests for temporary lighting adjustments can be made on the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission’s website here: Lighting Requests – DRJTBC.
The Lower Trenton Bridge has been a quintessential part of our community since the 1800s and remains the highlight of our city’s skyline today. Although some features and visuals may have changed, the core of its message remains the same. Trenton is a city abundant with industry, opportunity, and innovation, and this welcome sign for our community could not be a more apt representation of the Capital City.