When the Duluth Ship Canal was cut through Minnesota Point in 1871, it created an island and an access problem for anyone living on it. Eventually an Aerial Transfer Bridge was built in 1905 and operated by the City of Duluth.
The Aerial Transfer Bridge had a gondola car that carried automobiles, horses and wagons, and people across the ship canal for just a nickel.
The Aerial Transfer Bridge was in operation for nearly 25 years. As Duluth’s population increased, it could not keep up with demands. Many new bridge designs were brought forward, and the Aerial Lift Bridge was selected. This design resulted in a new bridge which retained many of the structural features of the old bridge.
During construction, actually remodeling of the transfer bridge, the head span was raised to accommodate the vertical lift span when in the up position to still provide 135 feet of clearance. When the lift span is down, there is only 15 feet of clearance. New, taller towers were built inside the old towers. The 900 ton vertical lift span and concrete counterweights are connected by steel cables which have their own counterweights in the form of large chains. A bridge operator’s control house was built in the center of the lift span above the deck.
Today, Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge lifts about 4,500 times per year. There are 6 bridge operators that keep the bridge ready 24 hours a day during the shipping season which runs from March 25th to January 15th.
Artifacts from the old Aerial Bridges are on display in the Visitor Center’s lower level. A free fact sheet on Duluth’s Aerial Bridges is available at the Information Desk or as a PDF download at www.LSMMA.com.