Peace Bridge: History & Construction

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Peace Bridge is a symbol of peace (unsurprisingly). In this lesson, we'll find out which peace this celebrates, and learn about the design and construction of this important structure.

The Peace Bridge

In 1812, the independent nation of the United States attempted to invade Canada as part of the War of 1812. It didn't go well, and the USA and Canada have never been military adversaries since. That's an especially impressive fact considering that the US/Canada border the longest in the world. Not only that, but it's also one of the least defended international borders in the world. The relationship between Canada and the United States is generally one of peace, so it's fitting that one of our most important border crossings is known as the Peace Bridge. Connecting Buffalo, New York to Fort Erie, Ontario, the Peace Bridge is an important symbol of the relationship between the two nations. From now on, if Americans are invading Canada, it's only for the maple syrup.

The Peace Bridge
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History

In 1873, the International Railway Bridge became one of the first major border crossings over the Niagara River. It was used for trains, and wasn't prepared for the advent of automobiles or increased foot traffic. So, as the 20th century rolled around, a new bridge was needed. US industrialist Alonzo Clark Mather started pushing for a new bridge as early as 1919, claiming that it could become a symbol of the lasting peace between the USA and Canada. But who would oversee the new structure? International border crossings, after all, can be contentious. Which nation pays for it? Which nation maintains it?

Responsibility for the Peace Bridge would fall not to the US or Canada but to an independent organization called the International Joint Commission. Founded in 1909 to prevent disputes over the use of border waters, this international commission was composed of people from both sides who swore to always resolve disputes in the fairest fashion, without trying to advantage their own country. In 1925, this cooperative body approved the building a new bridge to accommodate pedestrian and vehicle traffic over the Niagara River. They called it the Peace Bridge.

Design and Construction

The chief engineer of the Peace Bridge was Edward Lupfer, although construction contracts were awarded to companies in both the USA and Canada. It was designed as an arch bridge, with five arched spans crossing the river. On the American side, a final span would be built as a trussed through arch as well, crossing the Black Rock Canal. In total, the Peace Bridge ended up being 5,800 feet long.

The Peace Bridge is a steel arch bridge structure, containing 5 arched spans
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Construction of the Peace Bridge would be a challenge. The water current, which averaged 7.5-12 mph, made building very difficult. In the end, however, 9,000 tons of structural steel, 800 tons of reinforcing steel, and 3,500 feet of steelwork came together to create a solid and stable border crossing. Edward Lupfer himself was the first person to drive across the bridge, testing it, in March of 1927. In June of 1927, the bridge finally opened to the public, although the official ceremony wasn't held until August. The Prince of Wales, Canadian Prime Minister, British Prime Minister, and American Secretary of State all attended the event, which was featured as the continent's first coast-to-coast radio broadcast.

Impact and Legacy

After opening, the Peace Bridge quickly became the busiest border crossing between the United States and Canada. It lost that title in 1992, but still remains the second-busiest crossing. To this day, the Peace Bridge may transport up to 6,000 trucks per day, representing an average of $700 million in international trade every single week. In 1993, a massive renovation project began, in order to keep this important crossing functioning at that capacity.

1977 stamp commemorating the 50th anniversary of the bridge
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