Every day — twice a day — I pass the Lower Trenton Toll-Supported Bridge, that straddles the Delaware River between Trenton, New Jersey and Morrisville, Pennsylvania. No toll is collected from drivers crossing the bridge, making it one of just a handful of toll-free bridges leading out of the Garden State. Officially, the Lower Trenton Toll Supported Bridge is designated as part of US 1 - Business Route, however, US 1 - Business Route doesn't really cross the bridge. It's actually Route 32, but not until you are in Pennsylvania. The Lower Trenton Toll Supported Bridge has even been featured in a few movies, including 1954's Human Desire and 1988's Stealing Home. The real claim to fame for the Lower Trenton Toll-Supported Bridge comes from the somewhat arrogant slogan that adorns the southside span in seven-foot high neon letters. It reads "Trenton Makes The World Takes" and it is renowned (and even reviled) by those all over the Greater Philadelphia and surrounding area.
The Lower Trenton Toll Supported Bridge, which is known colloquially as the "Trenton Makes Bridge," opened on January 30, 1806, exclusively as a railroad bridge. It was the first railroad bridge in the United States to be used for interstate rail traffic. To keep up with the growing demands of railroad traffic, the bridge was rebuilt and reinforced four times over the years.
In the spring of 1918, the Pennsylvania Railroad sold the bridge to state government of New Jersey and the tolls were removed. It was again rebuilt in 1928, after it was designated as an automobile traffic bridge for US Route 1.
In 1910, the Trenton Chamber of Commerce ran a contest for a city slogan. Trenton, at the time, was a leading manufacturer of a multitude of goods, most notably steel, rubber, wire rope, linoleum and ceramics. New Jersey Senator and local businessman S. Roy Heath submitted the slogan "Trenton Makes The World Takes" and it was chosen as the winner. It appeared in brochures and on other printed material promoting the city of Trenton. In 1911, the slogan was affixed to the side of the Lower Trenton Toll Supported Bridge in large metallic letters. In 1917, the slogan was enlarged and illuminated with 24,000 incandescent lamps. In 1928, the sign and lights were removed and the bridge remained dark until an even bigger version was installed in 1935, this time the letters shone in bright glowing neon.
The sign and bridge, like much of the city of Trenton, fell into a dreadful state of disrepair. However, in the early 1980s, as part of a citywide revitalization, the sign was once again replaced with the biggest version yet. In 2005, the sign received additional upgrades to lighting technology, including LED lights and multiple changing colors. More upgrades are scheduled as well.
Yet, as folks (like me) cross the adjacent Trenton-Morrisville Bridge (on the actual Route 1, where the toll is a buck), we still silently scoff at the boastful claim that the Lower Trenton Toll Supported Bridge makes on behalf of a once proud city. Because we are Philadelphians and that's what we do.