This past year marks the 75th anniversary of the first international traffic to cross the Peace Bridge. The idea for a bridge between Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Ontario dates back to 1851. It would take another 75 years to realize this dream, due to years of complicated legislation on both sides of the border regarding the raising of the funds to construct such a facility, overcoming the opposition of electric power interests, and conquering the Niagara River's swift current.
Serious planning for the bridge got underway in 1893, when Alonzo Mather proposed a design for an international harbor on both sides of the river and a bridge to link the two countries by rail, trolley, and vehicular and pedestrian traffic. This initiative provided an important stimulus to the final development of the bridge, even though his initial plans were averted by special interests.
Mather wanted to install electricity generating turbines under the span, and existing Niagara Falls power interests, in the United States, fought the bridges construction fearing too much competition. Mathers efforts attracted the interest of many people in the area. A citizens movement to erect a vehicle bridge gained momentum in 1909. The principle rationale was not the expansion of commerce and trade, but rather the desire to erect a series of monuments along the Canadian and United States shores to commemorate a century of peace between the two countries, since the War of 1812. In 1913, a celebration of peace drew more than 40,000 to Erie Beach Stadium, and interest in the project escalated. World War I began in 1914, and planning ceased while attention was focused on the conflict.
At the conclusion of the Great War, Buffalo businessman William Eckert, attorney John Van Allen, and industrialist Frank Baird persuaded the United States Congress to establish a bridge commission and moved a bill of incorporation through the New York State Legislature in 1919. William German, a member of Canadian Parliament for Welland County, introduced similar legislation in Canada.
Once approved, the first task of the Commission was to secure passage of enabling legislation in Albany. In 1925, legislation enacted by both countries incorporated a single, international Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Company. Soon afterwards, land was purchased and a plan was adopted, which provided for the private financing of the bridge through toll revenues. Construction was financed through the issuance of $4.5 million in bonds. These were the boom days before the crash of 1929, and the initial $3 million bond issue was so enthusiastically received it was oversubscribed in 20 minutes.
Ground breaking ceremonies took place on August 17, 1925, and on August 7, 1927 Mathers vision was finally realized when, among much pomp and pageantry this symbol of mans ingenuity, the Peace Bridge, finally opened. As originally planned, the bridge was dedicated to 100 years of friendship between the U.S. and Canada, the longest standing friendship between two countries with a shared border. Included in the festivities were the Prince of Wales, Prince George, Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, U.S. Vice President Charles Dawes, Secretary of State Frank Kellogg and New York Governor Al Smith.
The private Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Company experienced difficulties meeting its debt obligations due to the Great Depression of the 1930s. To ensure that the bridge would be able to meet the ever growing and changing needs of automobile and commercial traffic, while fulfilling its debt obligation, the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority was formulated as a public benefit corporation by special acts of the State of New York and the government of Canada. All assets of the former Public Bridge company were acquired by the Authority, and with the Authoritys tax advantages, lower interest rates and longer amortization schedules, the financial crisis passed.