The original bridge at the Lower Trenton location was a largely wooden structure designed by Theodore Burr. It was the country’s second covered bridge and the first to span the Delaware River. It opened as a private toll bridge on January 30, 1806 and remained in service until 1876. Prior to the bridge’s opening, river crossings were made by ferry — a means of travel made uncertain by floods and ice stages in the river with travel frequently delayed for weeks at a time.
The original bridge — refered to as the Trenton Bridge or Delaware River Bridge — had massive laminated arches. The floor was suspended from the arches with iron chains, a revolutionary design for its time. The structure’s New Jersey and Pennsylvania entrance portals featured high and elaborate fronts, with great arched doorways over the carriage ways and foot-walks. The piers and abutments were constructed of stone masonry designed to be elevated enough to clear the highest flood. As a result of floods reaching a level higher than expected during the construction period, the masonry was raised to a new high-water level. Because of this precaution, the bridge was not swept away during the 1841 flood that destroyed five other bridges over the Delaware north of Trenton. The bridge was modified in the late 1830s to carry steam locomotives became the first bridge in the United States to be used for interstate railroad traffic. The Pennsylvania Railroad replaced the bridge with two twin iron spans completed in 1875 and 1876.
The current 1,022-foot bridge is a five-span Warren Truss that fully opened to traffic in January 1929. The roadway consists of two lanes: a lane in each direction separated by the center truss. The substructure consists of the wooden bridge’s original abutments and piers, each of were widened in 1874 and 1892 for additional railroad spans. The bridge’s down-river truss displays the “Trenton Makes The World Takes” sign, which is mounted to the truss members; hence, the bridge’s nickname. The original sign was installed on the former iron bridge in 1917 and was illuminated with 2,400 incandescent light bulbs. The first neon sign was installed on the current bridge in 1935. It has been replaced several times. The current sign letters were installed in 2005 and they were outfitted with a new LED lighting system in 2018. A webpage on the “Trenton Makes The World Takes” sign may be viewed here.
The bridge is currently posted for a five-ton weight limit, a ten-foot vertical clearance, and a 25 MPH speed limit.