The Lower Trenton Toll-Supported Bridge is the Commission’s oldest and most-storied river crossing.  It also is the agency’s most iconic structure, owing to the illuminated “Trenton Makes The World Takes” sign on two of the bridge’s steel trusses.  The sign – there have been four of them over the past 100 years or so – has been viewed by millions of area residents and travelers, many of them passengers on Pennsylvania Railroad and Amtrak trains crossing the stone-arch railroad bridge a short distance downstream.

In 2018, the Commission completed the installation of a new programmable LED lighting system, adding to the sign’s legacy as a must-see regional attraction.  This webpage has been created to provide information about the LED lighting and to accommodate eligible organizations seeking to request temporary color schemes on a specific date.

All special lighting requests must be made by application to the Commission and MUST BE RECEIVED at least 30 days in advance of a date that is being requested.  Approval of respective eligible requests is at the sole discretion of the Commission.   Requests made via, or including, petitions and/or social media campaigns will not be considered.  There are no automatic request renewals; applicants for lighting requests must be filed annually to be considered.  The Commission also does not accept lighting requests more than 12 months in advance of a requested lighting date.)

The Commission’s full lighting policy, an application form, annual lighting schedule, and additional information is below.  (Note:  The Commission may change its lighting policy at any time without notice.)

‘TRENTON MAKES’ SIGN LIGHTING POLICY

Organizations seeking temporary color(s) on the Lower Trenton Bridge’s LED-illuminated Trenton Makes The World Takes sign must first read the lighting policy prior to submitting an application.

  • The “Trenton Makes The World Takes” sign lighting and animation will be run at the sole discretion of Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission.
  • The sign lighting system will not be adjusted for personal events, birthdays, anniversaries or other personal occasions. Major civic events and historic federal, state, and local anniversaries will be considered.
  • All requested temporary adjustments to the lighting system must be in keeping with Commission values and conform to Commission standards of appropriateness and good taste.
  • The special program colors will run from 30 mintes before sunset until 11 PM.  Traditional RED returns at 11 p.m. and continues until dawn.
  • Submit your requests a minimum of 30 days in advance of the requested dates.
  • Please provide several dates, or a range of dates you would like the color alteration to appear. Color requests from community partners typically run two to three consecutive nights; however, final date (or date range) selection is based upon availability and solely at the Commission’s discretion.
  • Utilize the Temporary Lighting Adjustment Request Form from this website.
  • Submit the form either electronically following the directions on this webpage, via email to communityaffaris@drjtbc.org or thru the US mail, to:
    Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission
    Attn. Community Affairs
    1199 Woodside Road
    Yardley, PA 19067
    If possible, please provide the RGB or CMYK values for your requested lighting color.

TEMPORARY LIGHTING ADJUSTMENT REQUEST FORM

Temporary sign lighting color requests are accepted through the submission of completed application forms submitted by e-mail or U.S. Mail.

Due to volume of requests and pre-scheduled dates, the Commission cannot accommodate all requests.

Send completed to request form to: communityaffairs@drjtbc.org

OR submit by U.S Mail to:

Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission
Attn: Community Affairs
1199 Woodside Road
Yardley, PA 19067

Note: The request form must be received 30 days prior to the temporary lighting date being requested.

PRE-PROGRAMMED ANNUAL LIGHTING DISPLAYS

Event/Holiday/Occasion Date Display
New Year’s Day January 1 multi-color
Martin Luther King Day Third Monday of January red, white and yellow
Valentine’s Day February 14 red, white and pink
President’s Day Third Monday of February red, white and blue
St. Patrick’s Day March 17 green
Passover Eight days, starting 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan red and white
Easter First Sunday following first full moon after Vernal Equinox purple and white
Cinco de Mayo May 5 red, white and green
Memorial Day Last Monday in May red, white and blue
Flag Day June 14 red, white and blue
Stonewall (Pride) Day June 28 rainbow
Independence Day July 4 red, white and blue
Purple Heart Day August 7 purple and white
Labor Day First Monday in September red, white and blue
Prostate Cancer Awareness September blue
Patriot’s Day September 11 red, white and blue
Breast Cancer Awareness October pink
Columbus Day Second Monday in October red, white and green
Halloween October 31 orange and brown
Pancreatic Cancer Awareness November purple
Election Day Tuesday after first Monday in November red, white and blue
Veterans Day November 11 red, white and blue
Thanksgiving Day Third Thursday in November red, orange, green and yellow
Hanukkah Eight days, starting the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev blue and white
Christmas Day December 25 and the week prior red and green
Kwanzaa December 26 through December 30 red, yellow and green
New Year’s Eve December 31 multi-color

SIGN AND LIGHTING SYSTEM INFORMATION

DIMENSIONS

  • 25 letters, all-caps
  • 9-feet 6-inches high
  • 334-feet long
  • Current all-cap block-letter housings were installed in 2005; identical in size and design to prior letter housings installed in 1980

MAJOR COMPONENTS

  • 1,150 linear feet of color changeable LED strip lighting elements
  • 56 DMX Controllers/Decoders (LD180) to regulate sign displays
  • 2,500 linear feet of LED control wiring
  • 52 NEMA 4X rated Control Boxes
  • 5,000 linear feet of wiring for the electrical power supply
  • 3,200 square feet of resurfaced letter surface

LED SYSTEM’S ATTRIBUTES

  • Capable of creating 16 million color variations
  • The red-light-only color scheme requires as much power as an electric tea kettle
  • In a year, the new system saves enough energy to drive a Tesla Model S from Philadelphia to Dallas
  • The sign’s annual energy savings could recharge 2,500 iPhones for one year in 2005; identical in size and design to prior letter housings installed in 1980

SIGN HISTORY TIMELINE

Because of conflicting information about the sign’s lineage, Commission staff endeavored to thoroughly research the promotional display’s history.  Using news clippings and other available resources, an accurate account was constructed of the various sign structures and lighting systems that were installed over the decades at Lower Trenton.  Other sign-related minutia is included in the resulting timeline.

The research shows that four different signs were placed at the location over the past 101 years.  Many different lighting systems, however, were determined to have been installed within these respective sign iterations.  The sign structure installed in 1935, for example, appears to have had no less than three different lighting systems during its 45 years of service.  There also were extended periods when the sign was unlit due to war, deterioration, or insufficient operating funds.

Click on the photo icon to view the accompanying image.

  • Origins – The Trenton Chamber of Commerce conducts a contest in 1910 to devise a slogan that would “spread the industrial and commercial fame of New Jersey’s Capital.”
  • The contest, with a $25 prize, attracts 1,478 entries from 289 enthusiastic individuals.
  • S. Roy Heath , a local lumberyard owner, coins the winning entry:  “The World Takes – Trenton Makes.”  A chamber member, he declines to accept the prize money.
  • Heath’s slogan is used on Chamber of Commerce stationery, roadway signs, and shipping crates.  It also appears on buttons and print advertisements, but never on a bridge along the river.
  • In 1916, Trenton Mayor Frederick W. Donnelly jumpstarts a concerted effort to put the city’s slogan on the Lower Trenton Bridge, then an unattractive two-lane iron-truss toll span owned and operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad.  Donnelly subsequently changes the slogan to read:  “Trenton Makes The World Takes.”
  • A successful fundraising campaign results in the installation of the long-awaited sign on the old-iron bridge during the spring and summer of 1917.
  • Mayor Donnelly is scheduled to light the sign for the first time on August 7, 1917, but the event is postponed by rain; the inaugural lighting takes place the next night but Donnelly can’t attend due to a prior engagement.
  • First Sign (R.C. Maxwell) The inaugural slogan sign is lighted for the first time on the “Old Iron Bridge” at the Lower Trenton location August 8, 1917; Robert Chester Maxwell , namesake owner of the R.C. Maxwell billboard-advertising company that built the sign for the Trenton City of Commerce throws the inaugural switch. (The Pennsylvania Railroad operated the bridge as a private toll crossing at this time. The Chamber, however, shoulders the sign’s operating and maintenance costs.)
  • According to an article in the Trenton Evening Times of August 10, 1917, the first sign is 12-feet high, 420-feet long, with 2,500 incandescent bulbs; there is an illuminated American flag in the center of the sign and a large arrow at the end pointing toward Trenton. (The flag is later removed because it caused people to think that Trenton manufactured flags.)
  • The huge display is publicized as the world’s largest municipal advertising sign and is believed to be viewed by millions of train travelers annually while crossing the Pennsylvania Railroad’s stone-arch bridge a short distance downstream.
  • The sign, however, goes out of service after about two years due to insufficient maintenance funds.
  • A 1921 fundraising effort succeeds in revitalizing the “dilapidated” sign, which blazes anew with replacement bulbs and other repairs on June 22, 1921. (NJ and PA jointly own the bridge at this time, having purchased it from the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1918; the states pay a former agency called the Joint Commission for Elimination of Toll Bridges to maintain and operate the aging bridge.  The sign, however, remains a Chamber endeavor.)
  • The slogan sign is removed along with the rest of the “old iron bridge” after the current sub-divided steel truss bridge is constructed and fully opened to traffic in early 1929; the new steel bridge operates without a sign for six years.
  • The Chamber of Commerce initiates fundraising efforts to outfit the new bridge with a sign, but the effort is stalled by the Great Depression in the early 1930s.
  • Second Sign (Hutchinson Signs Inc.) The Chamber of Commerce launches a “Keep Trenton Ahead” campaign in early 1935 to raise funds for an illuminated sign on the new bridge. The Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission – formed the previous December by NJ and PA – approves the sign’s installation; the Chamber hires Hutchinson Signs, Inc. of Trenton to build and install the sign.
  • A red-neon-illuminated sign shines on the new bridge for the first time in October 1935.  The sign is 330-feet long with capital letters 9-feet high and the other letters 7-feet high. Each letter housing is 18-inches wide with a white interior.
  • Shortly after Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Chamber is required to turn off the sign for the duration of World War II.
  • Trenton gets a new radio station in early 1942 with the call letters WTTM , an acronym based on Roy Heath’s original slogan – World Takes Trenton Makes.
  • The sign’s lights are refurbished and relighted December 3, 1945, but the sign is in service for only several months; the sign is removed from the bridge for a rehabilitation project in 1946.
  • The sign is reinstalled on the bridge in 1947; while removed from the bridge, the letter housings are repainted to provide a red background behind new amber neon tubing.
  • The bridge sign appears near the end of the film-noir picture Human Desire, starring Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame; Columbia Pictures released the film August 5, 1954. The sign is depicted in the background as actor Edgar Buchanan assists Ford in lighting a cigarette at the controls of a train engine crossing the Delaware River.  Pop-culture appropriations in subsequent decades include:  two 1983 movies — a Jersey Shore road trip in Baby and as actor Mark Harmon’s bus crosses the bridge in Stealing Home; in the rap group Trenton’s Poor Righteous Teachers’ video of their song Rock This Joint; on the rock band The Cryptkeeper Five’s 2004 album cover Trenton Makes; the 2007 film Rocket Science; in a 2014 episode of the television series Gangland.  (In 2018, the slogan phrase serves as the title of a novel Trenton Makes by author Tadzio Koelb, but the bridge sign image does not appear on the book .)
  • The Chamber of Commerce gives the sign a new look with fresh red enamel in the letter housings in 1956.
  • Trenton Mayor Arthur J. Holland  pitches the notion of a new slogan for the bridge in March 1963, but the idea meets with swift and certain opposition.
  • Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Charles Gardner tells a Trenton Sunday Times Advertiser columnist in 1965 that it costs $125 a year to pay the sign’s electric bill and $100 a year to maintain the sign.
  • The sign ambles on (photo of 1935 sign circa 1970s), but is often beset with flickering or missing letter lights that invite sarcastic interpretations like “Trenton Flickers, The World Snickers” and “Trenton Uses What The World Refuses.”
  • During a Monday Night Football game between the Houston Oilers and Miami Dolphins on Nov. 5, 1979, ABC-TV sportscaster Howard Cosell mentions the sign in his color commentary:  “That’s Elvin Bethea on the tackle.  He’s from Trenton, N.J. That’s where they have that marvelous sign on the bridge – Trenton Makes, The World Takes! Runs right over the Trenton River.”  (Note: Cosell said Trenton River, not Delaware River.)
  • The sign is characterized as an eyesore in January 1980 when the Trenton Sunday Times Advertiser seeks to raise community support for a replacement by publishing a front-page feature article, an editorial, and a two-page centerfold letter from the publisher that is accompanied by a mail-in coupon aimed at gauging public sentiment on fixing the sign and possibly changing the slogan.
  • The Trenton Times in February 1980 revealed overwhelming support for fixing the sign, with 80 percent of poll respondents urging retention of the old slogan;  the Chamber kicks off a “Give Us a Sign” fundraising campaign that raises a reported $42,000 to install a new sign.
  • Third Sign (Cutler Sign Associates) A newly designed sign consisting only of capital letters and a new neon-lighting system is turned on for the first time on June 7, 1980; in two days, the Trenton Times reports operational issues with the new neon lighting.
  • In fall 1981, the Trenton Times and the Chamber of Commerce conduct a joint fundraising drive – “Give It a Whirl” – to finance the installation of a wind-powered electric generator to power the sign’s lights; the Chamber reveals that it now costs $100 a month to power the sign and that $1,200 in left-over funds from 1980’s $42,000 sign-replacement effort is exhausted, forcing the Chamber to use its own operating funds to pay the sign’s power bills.
  • The windmill is installed atop an 80-foot tower at the center of the bridge and begins operating on Dec. 4, 1981, but the Chamber shuts down the device after only eight days due to a product recall.
  • The windmill resumes service after a replacement rotor is installed in early February 1982, but it is scuttled in less than eight months; Ed Meara , the Chamber’s executive director, calls the windmill “a colossal flop” because it can’t even generate enough electricity to cover a monthly $5 service charge.
  • By 1986, the sign’s unreliable neon lights are so frequently on the blink that The New York Times runs a derisive article with the headline “Mis_ing Lett_rs In N_w Jers_y Sign.”
  • Seeking to revive the sign for the arrival of a Double-A minor league baseball team in a new Trenton waterfront stadium in 1994, the Mercer County Chamber of Commerce — which absorbed the old Trenton Chamber years earlier — transfers the sign’s ownership and operating costs to the Bridge Commission. (Pennsylvania and New Jersey conveyed their joint ownership of the Lower Trenton Bridge to the Bridge Commission in 1987.)
  • Fourth Sign (Eastern Sign Tech) The sign installed in 1980 is beset by ongoing lighting and maintenance problems by the start of the 21st century. In 2005, the Commission replaces the sign . The display now boasts deeper letter housings and a new power supply; the sign’s letters, while new, are the same block design and size as the 1980 replacement.
  • An opening scene for the January 2012 action comedy film One for the Money depicts the famous slogan sign, but it is actually attached to the Kittanning Citizens Bridge along the Allegheny River near Pittsburgh. The movie based on former Trenton-based mystery novelist Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum detective series is a critical and commercial flop.
  • After being in service nearly 12 years, the Commission in May 2017 approves a $647,000 contract to remove the sign’s obsolete, unreliable neon lighting system and install a new color-changing and energy-efficient LED lighting system in the 2005 sign’s letter housings.