Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Steel Pier

Of all the piers in the amazing history of Atlantic City the Steel Pier stands out above the rest. The pier opened for business in 1898 with an appearance by famed sharpshooter Annie Oakley. It was located opposite Virginia Avenue and the bathhouses owned by George W. Jackson, the president of the newly formed Atlantic City Steel Pier Company. In an effort to engineer a stable structure ( these piers had a way of getting blown away by nasty storms ) massive iron pilings were driven into the sand, and a steel skeleton extended 1,600 feet from the Boardwalk, its sturdy frame topped with a hardy wooden deck.

Next came the beautiful buildings that lined the pier, dazzling both tourists and permanent residents alike. The stylish Casino Building, with its two stately towers, served as the entrance to the pier. To squeeze the most space out of the available square footage, it was built as a double-decker. The first level was a large esplanade, perfect for people watching and catching a refreshing sea breeze. The floor above served as the Casino Theatre, host to many great bands of the day.
Next built was the almost 12,000-square-foot dance pavilion, behind which was a monstrous aquarium where people gathered to watch the sea lions, yup, sea lions. In Atlantic City nothing succeeded like excess, and the icing on the cake was the almost 3,500 electric lights outlining the structures. The Steel Pier was a wondrous site to behold, and it drew people to it like moths to a candle.
Another innovation was that instead of using the traditional "pay as you play" model, the owners of the new pier created a marketing plan that permitted entrance to the pier and all it had to offer for one flat price, a dime :) The public loved it.
From opening day the Steel Pier was a smash hit, providing band music, dances, and water shows, and even introducing the latest dance craze., the cakewalk, to the country. No trip to the America's Playground was complete without a visit. During the first half of the twentieth century, everybody who was anybody, or wanted to be somebody, appeared here, at the "Showplace of the Nation." Bud Abbot and Lou Costello, Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller, Jackie Gleason, Benny Goodman, Bob Hope, Amos 'n' Andy, and even the Three Stooges played the pier. In the 1960s such acts as the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys followed a generation of stars to the Steel Pier.
Two of the pier's memory makers were the Diving Bell, in which up to fifteen riders took a trip below the waves, and of course, the High Diving Horse, an act in which a rider and horse jumped from an elevated platform 45 feet into an 11-foot-deep tank.

More to come in other posts on this wonderful pier.
I hope you agree that this is a much better format for the stories and pictures I am sharing with you.


  1. Emil, I loved the Steel Pier growing up in the 60's. I saw the Four Seasons there several times and The Four Tops, The Supremes, and Herman's Hermits. At the time they were so popular, and my mother got us to the boardwalk to line up at 5:00AM. When the Pier opened we all ran to stand against the stage where they would appear. We were packed like sardines, you couldn't move an inch. After about 5 hours of waiting like that, the show began and I passed out from heat exhaustion. There was no way out but to be lifted above the crowd onto the stage and right past Herman's Hermits. So after hours of waiting, I never got to see the show :-)
    I miss Steel Pier so much, fortunately it was still somewhat active while my kids were growing up and I was able to take them there to the Diving Bell etc. Great memories and surely it is missed. Thank you for these great stories and letting us go down memory lane with you.

  2. THanks Robin

    Glad you could post and thanks for your loyalty. See...we can communicate on a blog :) I just need to convince some of these 1700 fans to switch over.
    I have an analytics program that tells me how many hits a story get a day _ much better than FB - and we are getting lots of hits from non-followers which is fine but it is fun to see people join.
    You certainly saw some great shows at the Pier. I am looking for a photo of the Diving Bell that I can post. I double clicked on the picture of the pier in this story and the enlargement has amazing detail

  3. I have a picture of the Diving Bell that was taken last fall. The Diving Bell is outside of the Atlantic City Aquarium. Sorry that I don't have one from 'back in the day.'

    I am REALLY enjoying your blog.
    Thanks so much!

  4. I did click on the picture Emil, it is amazing the detail, I love it. I so enjoy old photos.
    This one is great.
    Shame with all of my visits as a teenager, I don't have any pictures of the diving bell. I was only concerned with my beloved Four Seasons and I do have a picture of them performing at Steel Pier, but never though of all the history and memories back then.

  5. I grew up with my parents telling me all kinds of great stories about Atlantic City and the Steel Pier. My parents honeymooned in Atlantic City, during WWII. I do remember driving home in my father's 1952 Buick, with peanuts from the Planter's Peanut Store...the floor of the back seat was filled with peanut shells when we arrived home.....Great times.

  6. Thanks for bringing many great memories back to us all! hugsss Rita~

  7. Emil, love your blog. It's brought back so many memories. I honeymooned in Atlantic City in 1960. My memories of Atlantic City are still good. The marriage not so good. We were there during Miss America and stayed at one of the hotels where some of the girls stayed. Also, another small thing, it was the first time I had Philadelphia Scrapple. I'm still a fan.

  8. Love your blog....I spent many a day in AC as I grew up (my summers) in Ocean City - Steel Pier was a large part of those summers. What an awesome place. Thanks for keeping those memories alive.