“Trenton Makes The World Takes.”

The phrase is well known among the people who live and work in and around the city of Trenton. Both the phrase and the Lower Trenton Bridge, as it is formally called, have abundant amounts of history.

The Bridge

Prior to the opening of the bridge in 1806, travel across the Delaware River was done primarily through ferries. This means of travel was unreliable due to frequent flooding and the freezing of the river during the winter.

Operated by the Trenton Delaware Bridge Company as a toll bridge it opened in January 1806, becoming the first bridge to cross the Delaware River.

Early illustration of the Trenton Bridge (Specific year unknown.)

In 1835, rails were laid on the bridge and horses hauling trains began to cross the river. In 1903, however, the building of a adjacent concrete arch bridge for railroad would move the trains out.

The Phrase

The phrase that we all know today was slightly different when it was first introduced. In 1910, the Chamber of Commerce held a contest to sum up the Capital City’s manufacturing excellence in a phrase.

During this time, Trenton made the steel rope used to hold up the world’s longest suspension bridges and the anvils used to forge iron. It made everything from pottery, wall plaster, cars, and farm tools, to mattresses, watches, and cigars. It even made the world’s largest for president William Howard Taft, so he could comfortably soak his 350-pound body.

The winning phrase was, “The World Takes, Trenton Make,” sent in by S. Roy Heath who would go on to become a state Senator in the 1920s. In 1911, the R. C. Maxwell Sign Co. installed a wooden sign reading “The World Takes, Trenton Makes.” The sign was much smaller than the one displayed today, and each painted letter glimmered with sequins.

In 1917, the time came to replace the wooden sign with an electric one, the phrase was altered to what we know today. The Chamber proclaimed the new slogan with a sign made from 2,400 electric light bulbs. Each letter stood 10 feet high with the first letter of every word taller than the rest. An American flag was added in the middle of the slogan as well as an arrow next to “takes,” pointing the way to Trenton.

Pictures above is part of the sign from the 1970s.

The Legacy

After all these years, the lights on the words continue to be upgraded. Most recently the sign was outfitted with a new electrical supply system and an energy-efficient LED (light-emitting diodes) lighting system with broad programmable color-changing capabilities. The Delaware River Joint Toll Commission marked the completion of this project with a formal ceremony on May 31, 2018 — the 100th anniversary of the night when the bridge crossing was purchased from its private owner — the Pennsylvania Railroad — and freed of tolls for the first time.

The new lighting system is equipped to showcase various colors. In February 2018, the lights remained green for some time during and after the Philadelphia Eagles’ participation and victory in that year’s Super Bowl.

Many people believe that the slogan is no longer relevant to the city. This is not the case, on the contrary, while Trenton no longer manufactures and exports good, it does continued to make artists, athletes, and innovators. To many it’s only a slogan but to us, it’s the legacy that fuels our future and continues to push us forward.