Postcard History: Niagara Falls


By Carla Charter

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. – Niagara Falls brings to mind rushing water falls and daredevils. The actual history of the falls actually dates back more than 12,000 years.

Its history begins in the Ice Age, when large torrents of water were released from the melting ice, draining into what is now known as the Niagara River.  Result of erosion once over falls was part of the Niagara River.

The falls at that time, were located in what is now  Lewiston, New York, according to Angela Berti, Public Information Officer for Niagara Falls State Park  The annual freezing and thawing of the Niagara River wore away at the rocks under the surface and gradual erosion and periodic rockfalls steadily moved Niagara Falls farther upstream to where it is currently located.  Modern influences, including the volume of water which has been reduced by diversion for hydroelectric power, has slowed current erosion.

Native Americans living in the Niagara region were most likely the first people to see Niagara Falls. The first European to document the area was a French priest, Father Louis Hennepin during a 1678 expedition. When he returned to France, Hennepin published an account of his travels in “A New Discovery.” The book brought Niagara Falls to the attention of the western world for the first time and inspired further exploration of the region.

The development of the rail system in the 1800s opened Niagara Falls to throngs of visitors and made it a prime destination for travelers from all over the world. In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte’s younger brother, Jerome, honeymooned with his American bride at the Falls. According to Niagara Falls history, he is credited with starting Niagara Falls’ honeymoon tradition.

Performing daredevil stunts over the falls these days is strictly illegal.  However, in the past this was not the case. The first person who went over the falls in a barrel and survived was Annie Taylor in 1901, a teacher from Detroit.  She was only the first of many daredevil acts at the falls. In 2012, Nick Wallenda of the Flying Wallendas crossed from the U.S. side of the falls to the Canadian side on a tight rope.   Before Wallenda was allowed to do his tight rope walk there had to be a change in New York Legislation and special permission granted from the Canada as well.

The power of Niagara Falls has attracted industrialists throughout history, who worked to harness the fall’s force using water wheels to drive their mills and factories. The world’s first large-scale hydroelectric generating station opened in Niagara Falls in 1895. The plant used the direct current (DC) system, however, which could only transmit electricity 100 yards.

In 1896, the famous electrical engineer Nikola Tesla proved that he could transmit electric from Niagara Falls to Buffalo, New York, using his new alternating current (AC) induction motor. That marked the first long distance commercial use of the AC system that is still used around the world today.

More information about the falls can be found at Niagara Falls State Park website,  www.niagarafallsstatepark.com.