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50 Years Ago, an American Moved the London Bridge to Arizona

The scheme created a tourist attraction to promote a real estate venture

London Bridge in Arizona

Rolls Press/Popperfoto/Getty Images

Moving the original London Bridge to Arizona was a scheme to make a small town in Arizona a tourist attraction.

Businessman Robert P. McCulloch’s ventures ranged from oil exploration to manufacturing chain saws, and he once tried to market a two-man gyroplane, a cross between a helicopter and a small airplane. But the imaginative entrepreneur is best remembered for a more exotic venture.

In 1968, McCulloch bought the London Bridge and moved it from England to Arizona to create a tourist attraction in the desert.

Though the bridge, erected in 1831, was one of London’s most recognizable landmarks, it hadn’t been designed for the weight of automobile traffic, and by the mid-1960s it was sinking into the ground at the rate of an inch a year. London officials needed to replace it. Enter McCulloch, who was looking for a way to raise the visibility of Lake Havasu City, a community he was developing on the edge of a man-made reservoir.

McCulloch paid $2,460,000 for the bridge and $7 million to have its granite blocks disassembled and shipped across the ocean and through the Panama Canal to Long Beach, Calif. They were trucked to Arizona and reassembled over a concrete structure. Initially, the bridge spanned dry land — until a canal was dug under it and flooded.  

In 1971, the bridge was dedicated at a ceremony attended by London’s lord mayor, Sir Peter M. Studd, and 25,000 spectators. McCulloch died in 1977, but his gambit paid off. Lake Havasu City has developed into a tourist magnet that attracts 775,000 visitors a year. 

Perhaps inspired by McCulloch’s purchase, San Diego investors in 1968 offered to buy London’s Big Ben clock tower. A city official wrote back to say that it wasn’t for sale.

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