This project reached completion in May 2018 and was marked with a formal ceremony on May 31, 2018 — the 100th anniversary of the night when the bridge crossing was purchased from its private owner — the Pennsylvania Railroad — and freed of tolls for the first time.
Work activities for the project began in late-summer 2017. Under the project, the aging, unreliable and energy-inefficient electricity and lighting components were removed from the iconic “Trenton Makes The World Takes” sign attached to the downstream truss of the Lower Trenton Toll-Supported Bridge. The sign was then outfitted with a new electrical supply system and an energy-efficient LED (light-emitting diodes) lighting system with broad programmable color-changing capabilities.
The new lighting system addresses the ongoing operational breakdowns and maintenance issues that plagued the bridge’s former neon sign components and electrical-supply system, which were installed in 2005 and were nearing the end of their useful life.
The start of the project occurred roughly 100 years after the first illuminated city slogan sign went aglow at the river crossing on August 9, 1917. At that time, a former two-lane iron truss bridge (removed and replaced by the current steel truss bridge in 1929) carried traffic and pedestrians at the Lower Trenton location.
A video featuring the completed new LED lighting system and footage of the May 31, 2018 sign dedication ceremony may be viewed above.
Limited, minor travel restrictions were used to carry out this project. Motorists driving over the bridge from Pennsylvania to New Jersey occasionally encountered lane shifts and short-duration traffic stoppages that enabled the contractor to place equipment and carry out some project tasks. Pedestrian access on the bridge’s upstream sidewalk was not impacted.
Construction activities took place through the remainder of 2017 and carried over into the first half of 2018. Besides the replacement of the sign’s electrical and lighting components, the work involved staff testing, troubleshooting, programming and staff training.
The project’s construction contract was awarded on May 22, 2017 to Carr & Duff, Inc. of Huntingdon Valley, PA for a not-to-exceed amount of $647,000.
The renowned “Trenton Makes The World Takes” phrase dates to the early part of the 20th century. The original phrasing was “The World Takes, Trenton Makes,” the winning entry in a 1910 contest the Trenton Chamber of Commerce sponsored to devise a slogan touting the city’s many manufacturing attributes. S. Roy Heath, a local lumberyard owner who went on to become a state senator, penned the phrase. (Heath’s namesake lumber company still remains in business in nearby Ewing.)
There were 289 persons in the contest with 1,478 submitted slogans. Heath reportedly returned the $25 contest prize.
While the original slogan appeared on stationery, shipping crates and on various signs in and around the city, it never appeared on a bridge across the Delaware River.
In 1917, a mayoral committee succeeded in raising funds to have the renowned R.C. Maxwell outdoor advertising company install the first illuminated slogan sign on the former iron bridge that then crossed the river at the Lower Trenton location. Former Trenton Mayor Frederick W. Donnelly spearheaded the effort, insisting that Heath’s contest-winning wording be reordered to read “Trenton Makes – The World Takes.” News clippings from the time state that the original sign included an arrow pointing to Trenton and an American flag. The lighting system consisted of 2,400 incandescent bulbs.
On August 9, 1917, the phrase “Trenton Makes The World Takes” went aglow along the downstream side of the old iron bridge that was the immediate predecessor to the current, steel Lower Trenton span. At that time, the iron bridge was a tolled crossing owned and operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad. News articles from the time heralded the sign as the “world’s largest municipal ad” and the “largest slogan sign in the world.”
The old iron bridge was replaced by the current steel truss bridge, which opened fully to traffic in January 1929. The new bridge did not initially include the signage. After a fundraising effort, the Trenton City of Commerce succeeded in raising enough revenue to install a new sign on the bridge in 1935. That sign, installed by Hutchinson Signs, Inc. of Trenton, was the first to utilize neon lights. It had 9-foot capital letters and 7-foot lower-case letters. The signage subsequently was replaced several more times over the years. In 1994, the chamber transferred ownership of the slogan signage to the Commission.
The sign’s new LED lighting system is expected to have a longer service life while being more reliable in all of kinds of weather conditions and reducing energy consumption costs.
The new color‐changing lights generally will maintain the appearance of the former neon sign, yet allow for flexibility to change the color schemes for holidays and special occasions. DRJTBC impact studies estimate the upgraded lighting will be 20 percent more efficient (5,520 watts currently vs. 4,335 watts for new lights) with a 60 percent longer system life (30,000 hours currently vs. 50,000 hours for new lights).