OVERVIEW OF THE COLLECTION
Title: Niagara Falls Bridge Commission Records
Collection Date(s): 1848-1946 (bulk 1890-1929)
Extent and Forms of Material: 6 cubic feet, including loose papers, bound ledgers and volumes, blueprints, and a photograph (17 boxes, one oversize folder)
Creator: Niagara Falls International Bridge Company, Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge Company, Niagara Falls Bridge Commission
Abstract: Correspondence, bridge construction and condition reports, financial records, and other materials created by or concerning the Niagara Falls International Bridge Company and the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge Company (NFSB). The main focus of the collection is company administration and the daily operation of a series of bridges connecting the U.S. and Canada over the Niagara Gorge.
Collection Number: AC1060
Processing Note: Processed by Nicole Kenney, (intern), July/August 2006 and July 2007; supervised by John Fleckner, archivist.
INFORMATION FOR USERS OF THE COLLECTION
Conditions Governing Access: Unrestricted research access on site by appointment.
Physical Access: Unprotected photograph must be handled with gloves.
Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use: Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Reproduction permission from Archives Center: reproduction fees may apply.
Preferred Citation: [Title and date of item], Niagara Falls Bridge Commission Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, box number [X], folder number [XX], digital file number [XXXXXXXX].
IN-DEPTH INFORMATION ABOUT THE COLLECTION
Administrative/Biographical History: In 1846 the Niagara Falls International Bridge Company and the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge Company were formed to construct, maintain, and manage the affairs of a bridge connecting the United States and Canada over the Niagara Gorge. The Niagara Falls International Bridge Company formed the American component of the joint venture, and the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge Company formed the Canadian component. The companies were governed by a joint board and managed by elected presidents. A superintendent was employed for daily activities such as cash accounting, employee interaction, and bridge supervision.
The first suspension bridge was built in 1848, but less than ten years later a stronger bridge was needed due to heavy traffic. John A. Roebling designed and oversaw construction of the Railway Suspension Bridge. The new bridge officially opened in 1855 and supported pedestrian, carriage, and train traffic.
Increasing use and heavier loads warranted the construction of a bridge with higher load capacity. The Third Suspension Bridge was completed in 1885, under the direction of engineer Leffert L. Buck.
The demand for a bridge capable of accommodating increasingly heavier loads and traffic led to the construction of the Lower Arch Bridge (sometimes referred to as the Steel Arch Bridge and renamed the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge in 1939). Once again, Leffert L. Buck designed and managed construction of the bridge, which was completed in 1897. The Lower Arch Bridge was built around the skeleton of the Third Suspension Bridge, without disrupting travel. The Lower Arch Bridge supported pedestrian and carriage traffic. A separate level carried train traffic, and the bridge companies maintained contractual relationships with various rail carriers, including the Grand Trunk Railway, Michigan Central Railroad, and the Canadian National Railway. This bridge is still in use today.
George L. Burrows (1836-1921) was president of the Niagara Falls International Bridge Company from 1885 until his death, and was supported by Superintendent Thomas Reynolds for the majority of his tenure. During a portion of the time covered by this collection Charles Riordan was president of the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge Company, with J.H. Ingersoll acting as Secretary-Treasurer (and later president).
The Niagara Falls Bridge Commission was created in 1938, and bought the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge in 1959. The Board of Commissioners consists of citizens of both the United States and Canada, and the main function of the organization is to oversee the management of the Whirlpool Rapids, Rainbow, and Lewiston-Queenston Bridges.
Scope and Content: This collection is comprised of paper-based documents, created from 1848 to 1946 (with the majority created between 1890 and 1929), that relate to the business affairs of the Niagara Falls International Bridge Company and the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge Company. The bulk of the collection was created by or addressed to the Niagara Falls International Bridge Company, but as the two companies are interconnected, there are documents created by or for the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge Company.
This collection provides data on topics such as business administration; bridge development, construction, and maintenance; and the early careers of two important engineers—John A. Roebling and Leffert L. Buck. John A. Roebling designed several famous bridges, most notably the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. Leffert L. Buck co-engineered the Williamsburg Bridge, also in New York City. At the time of its completion, the Williamsburg Bridge was the longest bridge in the world.
The collection has been divided into series based on a reconstruction of the original order, which appears to have been based on subject. In cases where the original order has been lost, subject divisions have been created. Most series and subseries are arranged chronologically, although there are some departures from this arrangement.
The collection is divided into five series: Series 1, Company Governance, 1848-1926; Series 2, Bridge Construction and Maintenance, 1851-1946; Series 3, General Correspondence, 1885-1946; Series 4, Financial Records, 1848-1941; and Series 5, Miscellaneous Published Materials, 1892-1920s.
Series, 1, Company Governance, 1848-1926, includes documents pertaining to the creation and administration of the bridge companies, and is separated into four subseries: Articles of Incorporation and Amendments, Meeting Minutes, Stockholder Information, and Legal Records. Materials within subseries are arranged chronologically.
Series 2, Bridge Construction and Maintenance, 1851-1946, is comprised of reports, shipping invoices, blueprints, and correspondence created by bridge company employees and engineers concerning bridge construction and maintenance. It is divided into three subseries based on the three bridges that the collection documents: the Railway Suspension Bridge, the Third Suspension Bridge, and the Lower Arch Bridge. Due to the span of dates and range of materials associated with the Lower Arch Bridge, this subseries is further separated into three sub-subseries: Construction, Condition and Maintenance, and the Pennsylvania Steel Company. The Construction subseries contains materials directly related to building the Lower Arch Bridge. Condition and Maintenance contains publications, reports, and other documents pertaining to the condition of the bridge after its completion. The third subseries documents the supply of bridge materials for the Lower Arch Bridge by the Pennsylvania Steel Company and includes shipping invoices and blueprints.
Series 3, General Correspondence, 1885-1946, contains loose correspondence that relates to the everyday business matters of the Niagara Falls International Bridge Company and the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge Company. Some of the main creators and recipients include George L. Burrows, Charles and Carl Riordan, Thomas Reynolds, J.H. Ingersoll, Leffert L. Buck, and Charles E. Fowler. A sample of topics covered are meeting dates and times, requests for annual bridge passes from community members, and demands for pay increases for both bridge employees and contract engineers. Because many of the materials in this series are products of internal correspondence, some are without identified authors or dates. This series, as much as possible, is arranged chronologically except for specific subject files found in the original order of the collection.
Series 4, Financial Records, 1848-1941, consists of a variety of documents pertaining to the financial aspects of company administration. Included are annual statements, cash accounting ledgers, bills/vouchers, insurance certificates, and an unidentified index that holds names of individuals and companies. This series is divided into five subseries: Statements and Reports, Ledgers and Toll Books, Bills/Vouchers, Insurance Certificates, and Unidentified Index, which are arranged chronologically.
Series 5, Miscellaneous Published Materials, 1892-1920s, is comprised of newspaper articles, vendor pamphlets, and other publications collected by the bridge companies. This series has been arranged chronologically where possible.
System of Arrangement: The collection is arranged into five series.
Series 1, Company Governance, 1848-1926
Custodial History: Collectiontransferred to the Archives Center from the Division of Work and Industry (formerly known as the Division of Mechanical and Civil Engineering) in 2007.
Subject - Geographical:
In addition to sources from within the collection, historical information on the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission, the Niagara Falls International Bridge Company and the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge Company was taken from:
Berketa, Rick. 2006. Bridges over Niagara Falls. Niagara Falls Thunder Alley. http://www.niagarafrontier.com/index.html (accessed 27 July 2006).
Niagara Falls Bridge Commission. 2006. Niagara Falls Bridge Commission. http://www.niagarafallsbridges.com/index.php3 (accessed 27 July 2006).