Interesting Historical Facts About Niagara Falls

niagara falls history

It is said that the name Niagara originates from an Iroquois word meaning thunder of waters. The original inhabitants of the region were the Ongiara (an Iroquois tribe named the Neutrals by French settlers, who found them helpful in mediating disputes with other tribes).

Who gave the first recorded eyewitness description of Niagara Falls ? Samuel de Champlain visited the area as early as 1604, and members of his party reported to him regarding the spectacular waterfalls, which he reported in his journals. Pehr Kalm explored the area in the early 1700s and wrote about it.

Father Louis Hennepin

Father Louis Hennepin

However, the consensus honoree is Father Louis Hennepin, who observed and described the Falls in 1677, bringing the Falls to the attention of Europeans. There is also credible evidence that Reverend Paul Ragueneau visited the Falls some 35 years prior to Hennepins visit.

During the 18th century, tourism became popular. By mid-century, it was the areas main industry. Napoleon Bonapartes brother Jerome visited with his bride in the early 19th century. Demand for passage over the Niagara River led in 1848 to the building of a footbridge and eventually the Niagara Suspension Bridge. This was eventually supplanted by the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge in 1855.

After the Civil War, the New York Central railroad publicized Niagara Falls as a great destination for pleasure and honeymoon visits. In 1886, the wood and stone bridge was replaced with the predominantly steel bridge that still carries trains over the Niagara River today. The first steel archway bridge near the Falls was completed in 1897. Known today as the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge, it carries vehicles, trains, and pedestrians between Canada and the US just below the Falls. In 1941 the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission completed the third current crossing in the immediate area of Niagara Falls with the Rainbow Bridge carrying both pedestrian and vehicular traffic between the two countries and Canadian and US customs for each country.

After the First World War, tourism boomed again as automobiles made trips to the Falls much easier. More recently, the story of The Falls is largely that of efforts to harness their energy for hydroelectric power and to control the development on both sides that threaten the areas natural beauty.

Quotes about Niagara Falls

  • Niagara was at once stamped upon my heart an Image of Beauty. Charles Dickens
  • It is with roses, locomotives and Niagara that [poems] are competing. e.e. cummings
  • I have seen the falls and I am all rapture and amazement. Henry James
  • “At last, fortissimo! [On visiting Niagara]” Gustav Mahler (on visiting Niagara)


  • one-fifth of the worlds fresh water passes over Niagara Falls
  • Niagara Falls supplies 10% of all the electric power for New York State
  • Niagara Falls is now a highly-managed natural wonder. One-half to three-quarters of the water doesn’t go over the falls anymore. Instead, it gets diverted into tunnels for the production of electricity. In fact, at nightafter the lights are turned off, the falls are dialed way back and a huge percentage of the water is diverted for electricity generation.

Niagara Falls are massive waterfalls on the Niagara River. They straddle the border separating the Canadian province of Ontario and the US state of New York. They are located 17 miles north-northwest of Buffalo, NY 75 miles south-southeast of Toronto between twin cities both named Niagara Falls (one in Ontario, Canada and one in New York state).

Niagara Falls is composed of two major sections parted by Goat Island: Horseshoe Falls (Canadian side) and American Falls (US side). The smaller Bridal Veil Falls also is located on the American side, separated from the main falls by Luna Island.

Niagara Falls formed when glaciers receded toward the end of the Wisconsin glaciation (about ten thousand years ago). Water from the newly-formed Great Lakes carved a path through the Niagara Escarpment on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. Though not exceptionally high, the Niagara Falls are very wide. Between 4 and 6 million cubic feet of water fall over the crest line every minute, making it the most powerful waterfall in North America.

niagra falls tourism

The Niagara Falls are renowned both for their beauty and as a valuable source of hydroelectric power in the area. Trying to manage the balance between recreational, commercial, and industrial uses has been a challenge for the stewards of the falls for well over a century.

Peak numbers of visitors occur in the summertime, when Niagara Falls are both a daytime and evening attraction. From the Canadian side, floodlights illuminate both sides of the Falls for several hours after dark. Currently, some 20-30 million tourists a year visit the Falls. The oldest and best known tourist attraction at Niagara Falls is the Maid of the Mist boat cruise, which has been in operation since 1846, carrying passengers into the whirlpools beneath the Falls.

From the U.S. side, the American Falls can be viewed from walkways along Prospect Point Park, also featuring the Prospect Point Observation Tower and a dock for the Maid of the Mist. Goat Island offers more views of the Falls. Its accessible by foot and automobile traffic. Beginning from Goat Island, the Cave of the Winds is accessible by elevator and leads hikers to a point beneath Bridal Veil Falls. Goat Island is also the located for the Three Sisters Islands, the Power Portal where a huge statue of Nikola Tesla can be seen, plus a walking path which enables views of the rapids, the Niagara River, the gorge, as well as the rest of the Falls. Most of these attractions are located within Niagara Falls State Park.

Additional attractions include The Niagara Scenic Trolley, the Flight of Angels helium balloon ride and helicopter rides. The Niagara Gorge Discovery Center showcases the natural and local history of Niagara Falls and the Gorge.

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