November 17, 1966: Lift Bridge lit for first time

On this day in Duluth in 1966, during a gala celebration, congressman John A. Blatnik threw the switch to light the Aerial Lift Bridge for the first time. The city’s Project Duluth Committee, chaired by John Grinden, led the effort to light the bridge. “The Aerial Lift Bridge is the symbol of Duluth,” Grinden said, “We want to do everything possible to promote it to dramatize Duluth to tourists.” The committee hoped lighting the bridge would help make it as recognizable a symbol of Duluth as the Eiffel Tower was for Paris or St. Louis’s Gateway of the West Arch. Everyone seemed to love the idea, which would use the same type of lighting that illuminated Egypt’s Sphinx and the Palace of Versailles in France. Soon it had the approval of the city, the Corps of Engineers, the Lake Carrier’s Association, and the Coast Guard. Costs spurred the creation of the Aerial Bridge Club. On November 17 a crowd of thousands joined Bridge Club officials and city dignitaries to watch as state representative John A. Blatnik—who called the lights “a magnificent symbol of the rebirth of our area”—threw the switch to turn on the lights. The University of Minnesota Duluth marching band broke into “Hey, Look Me Over.” After that, the crowd joined the College of St. Scholastica’s choir in a rendition of “God Bless America.”

Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge photographed short;y after it was first illuminated in 1966. (Image: Duluth News Tribune)