History of Steel Pier
In New York, there's Coney Island. In Florida, there's Disney World. In New Jersey, there's Steel Pier - once again.
Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, in 1993, Atlantic City's famous Steel Pier resumed its rightful position as the centerpiece of family entertainment on the great wooden way. After years of neglect and ultimately the devestation of a 1982 fire, Donald Trump's Taj Mahal rebuilt the Atlantic City icon making it a viable amusement pier once again.
But just as a house is not a home, a giant steel and concrete pier does not become a magnet for families in search of fun without love. (And a lot of hard work.)
In 1993 the Catanoso brothers, Anthony, Charles, William and Joseph along with their partners Taft Johnson and Edward Olwell brought their love of the amusement business along with a track record of successful go-cart raceways to their biggest project to date. Just 22 days after signing a five year lease, the group took its first quantum leap toward restoring Steel Pier to its former glory by reopening the landmark with 14 rides and the world's most famous animal act - the Diving Horse.
In its heyday, The Steel Pier entertained tens of thousands of visitors each day with attendance reaching 80,000 the Sunday before Labor Day. With non-stop entertainment including the top names of the day and novelty acts like the Diving Horse and the high-wire motorcycle act and four theaters that could accommodate 12,000 patrons at a time, The Steel Pier was indeed, The Nation's Showplace.
Steel Pier originally opened in 1898 and quickly became known for showcasing the world's top entertainers. From the 1920's through the 50s everyone who was anyone played Steel Pier. W. C. Fields was a member of the minstrel group that appeared during the Pier's inaugural season, but headline appearances quickly followed for him and everyone else. Guy Lombardo, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, Mae West, Charlie Chaplin, The Three Stooges, Bob Hope, Amos 'n Andy, Frank Sinatra - everyone played Steel Pier. It's been said that Big Bands weren't really big until they started to play on Steel Pier.
For one admission price, patrons could enjoy every concert, film and attraction without ever spending another cent.
In 1925, George Hamid, a one time tumbler with the Buffalo Bill Circus who had a flair for presenting the most astounding outdoor circus entertainment, joined forces with the pier's owners to showcase the spectacles that launched a legend.
The Human Cannonball, the High Diving Hawaiians, Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly - who set the world's record (seven weeks) for pole sitting and started a national craze and yes, the Diving Horse were all the ingenious work of George Hamid, who eventually purchased the pier in 1945.
Atlantic City's venerable Miss America Pageant has close ties to Steel Pier. Frank Gravatt, one of the pier's early owners who hired George Hamid, saved the event from financial ruin by hosting the pageant in the pier's main ballroom for four years running. The pageant later moved to it's current home in Convention Hall.
As air travel became accessible to more vacationers and Atlantic City slipped into its long, slow decline, the glory of Steel Pier eventually faded away until it closed in 1976. But, in nearly eight decades entertaining millions of people, it gained a well deserved place in the hearts of visitors worldwide.
Today, the Catanoso's and their partners are counting on nostalgia to bring in visitors and modern day amusements and thrills to keep them coming back. With 24 rides, games and prize wheels, a food court and free admission, the Steel Pier is successfully luring back the family trade to a town that had become a one - dimensional casino resort. A custom made, double-decker carousel, fashioned by Italian craftsmen, features hand-painted scenes from Atlantic City's past.
Now with several increasingly successful seasons under their belts, the group has set its sights clearly on the future with plans for a water park and bigger, faster, more thrilling attractions. These modern - day pioneers hope that their success will give other entrepreneurs the courage to continue to revive the family entertainment that once made Atlantic City the Queen of Resorts.