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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Living on Earth Almanac/By the Sea

Air Date: Week of

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This week, we have facts about the Atlantic City boardwalk. Back in 1870, it was built to keep beachgoers from tracking sand into train cars and hotel lobbies.


TOOMEY: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I’m Diane Toomey.

[MUSIC UP AND UNDER: [Philip Green and his Pops Concert Orchestra, "On the Boardwalk (in Atlantic City)", THE WORLD’S GREATEST POPULAR STANDARDS (Alanna Records)]

TOOMEY: One hundred thirty-two years ago this week, beach goers in Atlantic City, New Jersey strolled onto the world’s first boardwalk.

Train Conductor Alexander Boardman came up with the boardwalk idea. He was looking for a way to keep vacationers from tracking sand into his railroad cars. Hotel owners, sick of sweeping sand out of their lobbies, liked the idea, too. So in 1870, half of Atlantic City’s yearly tax revenue went into constructing the walkway out of 12-foot-long planks.

At first, the walk was a temporary structure, ten inches above the beach, and taken up and stored away each winter. Then, in 1916, boards were set in a herringbone pattern upon the existing steel and concrete pilings. And lanes were established to control traffic. People paid to be pushed around in rolling chairs. And starry-eyed lovers ambled next to taffy-munching tots, all caught up in the energy of the place. Railings kept the distracted from accidental tumbles onto the beach.

Today, the well-worn planks sit ten feet over the hot sand, and stretch four miles in length. Recent controversy focuses on how best to replace damaged planks. While some argued for long-lasting Brazilian hardwoods, rain forest advocates called for options like Southern Yellow Pine. Still, other folks prefer artificial timber products made from locally recycled plastics. So someday, maybe boardwalk splinters could be a thing of the past, just the like the vaudeville stars and wool bathing suits that used to fill Atlantic City. And for this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac.




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