Question of the Week
Thousands of cars pass over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge between Philadelphia and Camden every day. What was this familiar bridge called before its rededication in 1956?
Answer: The Delaware River Bridge.
The Ben Franklin Bridge, originally called the Delaware River Bridge, opened on July1, 1926. Residents had first suggested a bridge to connect Philadelphia and Camden in 1818, however; it would be over a century before a bridge was actually built. New Jersey and Pennsylvania legislatures finally approved the plans for a suspension bridge over the Delaware River in 1921 and construction began in January 1922.
The bridge officially opened to traffic on July 1, 1926, which coincided with the Philadelphia celebration of the sesquicentennial that same year. President Calvin Coolidge officially dedicated the bridge a day later. Over 32,000 vehicles passed across the bridge in the first 24 hours that it was open. The Delaware River Bridge held the title of the world’s longest suspension bridge for three years before the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit opened in 1929 and beat it by 100 feet. When opened, six toll houses with ten collection booths stood at the Camden side of the bridge. The toll for one car was $0.25, while a horse and rider could cross for $0.15. The bridge was rededicated in 1956 in honor of Benjamin Franklin.
HSP’s Philadelphia Record photograph morgue (#V7) and Society photograph collection (#V59) contain many early images of the Delaware River Bridge. The society also houses the papers of Samuel Vauclain (#1900B), a member of the Delaware River Bridge Joint Commission, which include construction photographs and blueprints of the bridge, as well as numerous other planning documents.
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.