(Look Back is an occasional series with content and images from the Atlantic County Historical Society.)
Who hasn’t heard of the Steel Pier in Atlantic City?
Soon after opening in 1898, the pier became the entertainment center on the East Coast, extending one-third of a mile into the Atlantic Ocean. Visitors were entertained by big bands, sideshows, acrobats, flag-pole sitters, games of chance and Miss America contests, earning it the name, “Showplace of the Nation.”
This all-in-one entertainment center was novel in its day and has not been matched even by today's theme parks. Where else could you take the entire family and see talking parakeets, The World of Tomorrow, John Philip Sousa and his band, a bear on a bicycle and World Famous Diving Horses, and ride beneath the waves in a diving bell, dance the night away in the Marine Ballroom, see two movies, and a stage show — all for one price of admission?
Some of the most popular singers and groups performed there while at the peak of their popularity. Names such as Rudy Vallee, Frank Sinatra, Eddie Fisher, Johnnie Ray, The Beatles, Ricky Nelson, Pat Boone, Tony Bennett, Andy Williams and Tiny Tim, who set an all-time attendance record of 130,000 people for one week. Some of the big bands who performed were Harry James, Paul Whiteman, Sammy Kaye, Glenn Miller, Tommy & Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Alex Bartha.
To play the pier was a sign of greatness in the world of show business when Atlantic City was at its height as a destination spot for people of all ages.
It was always known as the place to go on a rainy, nonbeach day for kids and their parents.
This type of entertainment grew out of favor when television, casinos and other types of entertainment became more attractive, yet the name Steel Pier still brings back good memories when music from that era is heard.
Founded in 1913, the Atlantic County Historical Society has been preserving historical materials in its library and museum since. Every week, Wednesday to Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., it opens its doors to share these collections with anyone who is interested. The society building is located at 907 Shore Rd. in Somers Point. More information is available at www.atlanticcountyhistoricalsocietynj.org and on Facebook, or by calling 609-927-5218.