The History of the London Bridge in Arizona

Arizona's London Bridge The Complete History

I first heard about the London Bridge in Arizona while on the Tower Bridge in London. ‘Tower Bridge’ is what is now often called the ‘London Bridge’ in London. However, there have been several previous London bridges that started from wood constructions, to eventually, concrete construction, and then the modern-day tower bridge.

When I was on the Tower Bridge, a local told me that there was a place in Arizona that had the original London Bridge and that people would go and tie the boats up under the London Bridge and have a huge party. 

I, living in New York at the time, filed that away as something interesting, but something I would probably never see. It was almost a decade later, when I moved to Arizona, that one day it hit me – didn’t someone tell me that the original London Bridge is in Arizona?

And so Kim and I set out on a quest to find it. So one day, at the end of our road trip, we drove into Lake Havasu, Arizona – got some Scotty’s Broasted Chicken, and drove across the London Bridge, where we watched one of the best sunsets I have ever seen. And since that day, I have become fascinated with the history of the purchase of the London Bridge and how successful it made the town of Lake Havasu.  

Below is my understanding of the history of this London Bridge.

Disclaimer: This history is a compilation of information from articles, museum visits, and hearsay from locals. I cannot speak to the accuracy of anything I’m about to share, but I believe it to be truthful and represent as much as I can understand from what I gleaned from the history behind the moving of the London Bridge. 

So, this all started in 1968. The officials in London realized that the London Bridge was not built to withstand the car traffic that was now traveling across the bridge, and the London Bridge was literally sinking into the river. 

London was also facing some serious economic challenges at the time and needed a way to make more money. So they decided to sell the London Bridge. Mr. McCulloch, who had recently purchased a huge section of land from the Arizona government, which would later turn into what we now know as Lake Havasu, needed a way to drive people to his new town.

McCulloch was having a hard time getting people to come to this “middle of nowhere” location, and he knew he needed some type of tourist attraction to draw people there and create the vibrant community he envisioned.

And so he decided to put a bid in to buy the London Bridge. He didn’t exactly know how much it would cost, so he met with London officials to get a sense of what they thought the value was. By doing so, he came to learn that dismantling the bridge would cost about $1.2 million. McCulloch decided to offer $2.4 million, plus $1,000 more for each year he was alive. This added $60,000 after.

He did that because he figured some other bidder may have the same amount and wanted to have a slightly higher bid. Reports suggest that his bid may not have actually been the highest, but the London officials liked his vision most. 

So while McCulloch’s bid wasn’t necessarily the highest, he was honored with the winning bid and was able to purchase the London Bridge. And thus came the challenging part of dismantling the bridge and bringing it to America. 

McCulloch had an incredible way of leveraging different ideas and a unique way of doing things. So, what he did was not only dismantle the bridge, but he completely hollowed out the inside of each marble stone and sold that marble to local artisans across London. 

By doing so, he was able to make $2 million from selling the marble, which significantly reduced shipping costs and made it much easier to put them back together when the pieces reached America. 

They also numbered every single brick they took apart to ensure they were reassembled in the same order. You can still see many of those engraved numbers on the bridge today. 

Intriguingly, they were able to label the shipment as an antique, which exempted them from paying import taxes. So from the simple fact that someone found a loophole to get around paying taxes on the importation of the London Bridge, it is now the largest antique in America, which I find pretty funny. 

Once the bridge was shipped to America, it was painstakingly reconstructed in a process that took around three years. Another intriguing aspect is that there was actually no channel or the island as is now seen in Lake Havasu during the reconstruction of the bridge. It was originally a peninsula.

What they did is – they assembled the bridge and then dug a channel underneath for the water to flow below the bridge. This allowed them to build the bridge without having to deal with all the water.

On October 10th of 1971, the bridge was finally completed, and an opening ceremony was organized. In 2021, Lake Havasu celebrated the 50th anniversary of the London Bridge being in Arizona. 

Thanks to this bold purchase, the community of Lake Havasu went from several hundred to 50,000 permanent residents today. Interestingly, the bridge is the second largest tourist attraction in Arizona, after the Grand Canyon, with millions of tourists visiting every year to walk and see this incredible antique.

The transportation of the London Bridge across the ocean was unprecedented before in history and something like this may never happen again. The London Bridge in Lake Havasu has now survived over 185 years and two continents and is still standing strong.