London Bridge Moves… to Arizona

1962 Arizona statehood stamp
US #1192 – The bridge was transported over 5,400 miles to Arizona.

On April 18, 1968, American entrepreneur Robert P. McCulloch purchased Britain’s famed London Bridge and relocated it to Arizona.  Though it was dubbed “McCulloch’s Folly,” it turned out to be a successful gamble and became one of Arizona’s most popular attractions.

Several bridges have stretched across the River Thames between the City of London and Southwark in Central London for centuries.  A variety of wooden bridges were built between 50 AD and 1176.  In the 1170s, King Henry II called for a new stone bridge to be built.  Work on it began in 1176 and was completed in 1209.  The bridge was about 26 feet wide and between 800 and 900 feet long.  Over time, shops and buildings were constructed on the bridge – up to 200 at one point.  This put a lot of stress on the bridge and its irregularly-spaced arches.  There were several arch collapses over the years, and each time they had to be rebuilt.  By the late 1700s, the bridge needed constant, expensive repairs and Londoners began calling for a new bridge.

1971 Wool Industry stamp
US #1423 – In 2018, Lake Havasu held a traditional English sheep crossing to mark the bridge’s 50th anniversary.

Engineers were invited to submit their plans for a replacement bridge.  John Rennie’s design was selected, work began in 1824, and it opened on August 1, 1831.  By the end of the century, the bridge was the busiest spot in London, with 8,000 people and 900 vehicles crossing every hour.  However, in the early 1900s, it was discovered the bridge was sinking about an inch every eight years.  It was too costly to repair, so they needed to replace it.

The City of London expected the bridge would be dismantled and left in a junkyard.  But city councilor Ivan Luckin believed someone in America might be willing to buy it.  He traveled to the US in 1968 and promoted the idea publicly, saying, “London Bridge is not just a bridge.  It is the heir to 2,000 years of history going back to the first century AD, to the time of Roman Londinium.”

1913 Panama Canal stamp
US #398 – The bridge traveled through the Panama Canal on its journey to Arizona.

While the proposal left many uncertain, wealthy businessman Robert McCulloch was intrigued.  He had made his fortune selling oil, motors, and chainsaws, but was attracted to unusual business ideas.  A few years earlier, he purchased thousands of acres near Arizona’s Lake Havasu and hoped to transform it into a tourist attraction.  He immediately felt the bridge was his answer.  McCulloch entered negotiations with the City of London and finalized his purchase on April 18, 1968.  The final cost would be $2.46 million.

1990 Grand Canyon stamp
US #2512 – London Bridge is the second largest tourist attraction in Arizona, after the Grand Canyon.

McCulloch then oversaw the painstaking process of moving the bridge to America.  Workers labeled every individual brick with arch span, row number, and position.  The bridge was taken apart brick by brick and packed in crates.  It traveled by ship through the Panama Canal to Long Beach, California, where it was driven to Lake Havasu.  Aware that the bridge wasn’t capable of handling modern traffic, the crew built a steel-reinforced concrete bridge over which the 10,000 tons of original granite was placed.  The bridge was built over a piece of land, but a channel was cut so that water could run underneath it.  After three years of work, the total cost of shipping, assembly, and dredging was $7 million.

1988 Sleigh and Village Christmas stamp
US #2400 – The bridge once hosted a traditional English Village filled with shops and eateries.

The bridge officially opened on October 10, 1971.  The opening ceremonies included skydivers, fireworks, marching bands, hot air balloons, and a dinner banquet.  Reporters mocked the idea and called it “McCulloch’s Folly,” but it turned out to be a success.  Lake Havasu’s population grew from a few hundred people in the early 1960s to over 10,000 in 1974.  That same year the bridge reportedly attracted two million visitors.  An “English Village” with British-styled storefronts was also constructed at one end of the bridge, though it suffered financially and was largely replaced by newer buildings.  Today, Arizona’s London Bridge is the state’s second largest tourist attraction, after the Grand Canyon.

Explore photos and video of the London Bridge.

FREE printable This Day in History album pages
Download a PDF of today’s article.
Get a binder or other supplies to create your This Day in History album.

Discover what else happened on This Day in History.

Did you like this article? Click here to rate:

[Total: 134 Average: 4.9]

Share this article

8 responses to "London Bridge Moves… to Arizona"

8 thoughts on “London Bridge Moves… to Arizona”

  1. Attributed to H. L. Mencken: “You’ll never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” Guess the Brits took that to heart.

    Reply
  2. I had no idea…what an interesting story. As much as I think I know about historical events and historical markers, I learn something quite often that is a complete surprise to me. Appreciate the effort put into producing these informative articles.

    Reply
  3. I remember it well! Around the time that this happened, my grandparents invested in some property there, and as part of the developers’ thanks they received a little piece of the Bridge mounted on a wooden pedestal which they kept on top of the TV in their living room. I wish I had been able to reclaim it after they passed, as it would be an interesting keepsake.

    Reply
  4. I moved to Lake Havasu City at the age of 11 in 1971. It was sparse, desolate, dry, hot, far from anywhere but a WONDERFUL place to have my younger years fulfilled! It still is gorgeous (it’s situated on the borders of CA and AZ, along the Colorado River). Sunsets and thunderstorms (a rare treat) are beyond beauty n comparison! I moved back as an adult but missed having a good paying job … Not much but service industry jobs because it’s a tourist town. WORTH A VISIT. EXTREMELY MILD WINTERS!!!
    Wondering why stamps were featured here. I was hoping to see a stamp honoring the little oasis in the desert!

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Love history?

Discover events in American history – plus the stamps that make them come alive.

Subscribe to get This Day in History stories straight to your inbox every day!