Why an American oilman needed the London Bridge
Fifty years ago, Arizona entrepreneur Robert McCulloch spent about $9.5 million to buy a 19th century bridge in London and move it to Lake Havasu City, a city that at the time had no population or river.
In 1962, a team of engineers maintaining London’s bridges discovered that one of them was in a precarious condition: the 130-year-old structure, which was used by thousands of cars daily, was not carrying the load.
London Bridge, 1870s or 1880s
In search of the best solution, one of the city council members, Ivan Lukin, came up with what seemed at the time to be an incredible idea: to put the crumbling bridge up for auction. “When I told them about my proposal, everyone thought I was crazy,” the official later recalled. Nevertheless, in the absence of other options, his initiative was supported and the search for potential buyers began.
As expected, not everything went smoothly. By March 1968, with only five weeks left in the bidding, the authorities had received numerous inquiries about the bridge for sale, but no concrete offers were forthcoming. Lukin decided not to give up and went to New York, where he gave a press conference, hoping to interest local businessmen. And, as it soon turned out, not in vain.
Dismantling London Bridge, 1968.Photo: AP Photo / East News
An aide to Robert McCulloch, a prominent Missouri oilman who had recently founded a town on the eastern shore of Lake Havasu in Arizona, drew attention to a newspaper article about the British official’s speech. The site with a large oil field was given to McCulloch by the state authorities free of charge in exchange for a promise to develop the land.
The entrepreneur looked for any ways to help bring population to his Lake Havasu City, and even financed the construction of a chainsaw factory, but it was not very successful: few people were willing to move to a place with such a hot and arid climate. When McCulloch heard from his real estate agent an offer to buy a London bridge and install it in Lake Havasu City to attract potential land buyers, he called it the craziest idea he had ever heard. But the very next month the American entrepreneur was in the British capital signing the purchase agreement.
After hearing an offer to buy a London bridge and install it in Lake Havasu City to attract potential land buyers, McCulloch called it the craziest idea ever.
The cost of the contract was $2.5 million, another $7 million went to dismantling the structure, transporting it to the United States and re-erecting it, which was completed by the fall of 1971. The stone blocks, each of which was carefully numbered, were fitted into the supporting structure in exactly the same order as they had been in the first place.
It is noteworthy that in Arizona the bridge did not connect any shores: it was placed on land, between Lake Havasu City and Pittsburgh Point, at that time a peninsula jutting out into Lake Havasu. Already after the bridge was assembled, a canal was dug beneath it, named Bridgewater. Thus Pittsburgh Point became an island, and London Bridge became the only crossing to it.
Installation of the London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, 1971.Photo: AP Photo / East News
Opening of the London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, 1971.Photo: AP Photo / East News
After the groundbreaking ceremony, which made quite a splash in the American media, the number of tourists in Lake Havasu City multiplied, and so did the number of people who wanted to buy land there: a few years later McCulloch was able to get all the money paid back.
To this day, while remaining the largest antiques ever sold, the London Bridge draws tens of thousands of tourists to Lake Havasu City each year. In 1985 the story of the bridge’s relocation also served as the basis for the plot for the American television movie “Bridge Over Time,” in which a series of murders was attributed to Jack the Ripper, whose spirit was transported from England to the United States in one of the bridge’s stones.
Tower Bridge in London
Tower Bridge is a swinging suspension bridge over the Thames in central London. The Tower Bridge is perhaps the main landmark of the British capital.
The name of this symbol of the city comes from the nearby Tower of London. Tower Bridge is one of several London bridges owned by the City Bridge Trust. It maintains it and is overseen by the City of London Corporation.
Tower Bridge in London
The bridge consists of two towers connected on the upper level by two horizontal crossings counteracting horizontal forces from suspended left and right sections of the bridge. The vertical component of the forces in the suspended sections and the vertical reaction from the two crossings is compensated by the two stable towers.
The centers of the movable bridge trusses and control mechanisms are placed at the base of the towers. Tower Bridge in London acquired its present coloring in 1977 when it was painted white, red and blue before the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations. Prior to that, it was chocolate brown.
Tower Bridge is sometimes mistakenly confused with London Bridge upstream of the Thames. According to a well-known urban legend, in 1968 Robert McCulloch purchased the old London Bridge and later shipped it to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, mistaking it for the Tower Bridge. Both McCulloch himself and Ivan Luckin, the seller of the bridge, refuted this version.
Tower Bridge (London) today
Tower Bridge (London) is still a busy and vital crossing over the Thames. More than 40,000 people (motorists and pedestrians) cross it daily. The bridge is on the London inner ring road, on the eastern border of the London Toll Zone. (Drivers do not pay to cross).
To preserve the integrity of the historic structure, the City of London Corporation has imposed the following restrictions on vehicles crossing the bridge: speeds of up to 20 mph (32 km/h) and weights of less than 18 tons.
The speed of vehicles crossing the bridge is measured by a sophisticated system of surveillance cameras, and a license plate recognition system is used to impose appropriate fines on speeding drivers.
Another system (inductive loop detector and piezoelectric sensors) monitors parameters such as weight, height of the chassis above ground level and number of axles of the vehicle.
River navigation across the Tower Bridge (UK)
Movable trusses are lifted approximately 1,000 times a year. Although the intensity of river navigation over Tower Bridge (UK) has now greatly diminished, it still dominates road traffic. The bridge must now be notified 24 hours in advance if it is to be separated. In 2008, bridge dispatchers began using a Twitter system to help communicate the schedule for the bridge’s opening and closing.
In 2000 a computer system was installed to remotely control raising and lowering of the bridge’s movable trusses. Unfortunately, it proved to be less reliable than expected. During 2005 the bridge was stuck in the raised and lowered position several times before its sensors were replaced.
For fans of unusual bridges I suggest to read about the Eresno Tunnel Bridge.
Tower Bridge: pictures and sights
The high passages between the towers, infamous havens for prostitutes and pickpockets, were closed in 1910.
In 1982, they reopened as part of an exhibit now housed in its twin towers, high-rise passageways, and Victorian-era engine rooms.
The passages are stunning views of the Thames and many of London’s famous landmarks and serve as a viewing platform for more than 380,000 tourists each year. The exhibition also includes films, photographs and interactive materials. They explain why and how Tower Bridge was built, photos of which are available for viewing below. In the building at the south end of the bridge, visitors can view the steam engines that once powered the bridge’s trusses.
During a pre-booked tour of the interior, visitors can descend into the bays of the bridge’s movable trusses and view the bridge’s control center for turning the bridge for ships to pass.