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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

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

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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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