March 27, 1905: Duluth’s Aerial Transfer Bridge begins operation

On this day in Duluth in 1905, the Aerial Transfer Bridge began regular operations ferrying people, vehicles, and goods across the canal. Service was supposed to have begun the previous day, and a crowd of 5,000 had shown up to be part of history. But the Modern Steel Structural Co., the firm that built the bridge, didn’t want to test the bridge with so many people; a good thing, it turned out, as that day the power cables feeding the electric motors broke. The next day shortly before 6 p.m., with forty people aboard and Gus Rakowsky of MSS at the controls, “the ferry car commenced regular trips.” That very evening it was making runs every five or ten minutes. The next day the Duluth News-Tribune announced the opening with flair: “Aerial Car Crosses in Teeth of Howling Gale,” reporting that the bridge operated “without a hitch” despite gale-force winds. Early trips contained an average of twenty to thirty passengers, but by the end of the evening folks were crossing in twos or threes. Throughout the evening the winds picked up, and by 9 p.m. it had “the force of a hurricane.” As the reporter left, Rakowsky made a prediction: “The ferry boat isn’t doing much business tonight. We are going to cut off her patronage as easy as falling off a log, and Duluth is the only place that can boast of such an [sic] equipment.” At the City Dock, about one block north of the canal, people unaware that the bridge was open to operation were still crossing on the steam ferry Annie L. Smith. One young lady waiting for the ferry said, “I don’t know whether I will go across the bridge. There is more poetry in crossing in a boat. ‘Rocked in the cradle of the deep,’ don’t you know.” Read more about Duluth’s famous aerial bridge here.

Duluth’s Aerial Transfer Bridge photographed on its first day of operation in 1905. (Image: Duluth Public Library)