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The First Suspension Bridge Started with a Kite

Tuesday, June 25, 2019 1:17 PM | Anna Matheson (Administrator)

Written by: Viken Mikaelian, CEO, PlannedGiving.com

There’s a lesson that fundraisers can learn from the history of Niagara Falls — specifically, about a suspension bridge that, from 1855 to 1897, connected the United States to Canada over the roaring waters. Here’s the story how it was built.

Engineering Challenge

The Niagara River, which drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario, is 800 feet wide at the falls. The sheer cliffs that make up either side of the Whirlpool Gorge are 225 feet high. In the 19th Century, there was no technology available to easily span that gap and begin construction of a bridge.

Engineers proposed using a rocket, or a shell fired by a cannon, to carry a line across the gorge, but neither idea offered a very probable solution.

A Marketing Twist: Hire a Kid with a Kite

Enter local ironworker Theodore G. Hulett, who told the engineers to go fly a kite — or rather, have a child fly one and offer a prize for the first kite to make it to the other side of the gorge.

This Was Brilliant Marketing ...

With $5 on the line — a splendid and princely sum in those days — 16-year-old Homan Walsh beat out the scores of other kids from nearby towns who participated. He managed to get his kite across that 800-foot gap, where its line was then tied off.

What's the Big Deal?

Engineers used the kite string as a pilot line to pull a stronger rope from the Canadian side back to the American side. That was used to pull an even thicker, stronger rope back to Canada. After several of these exchanges, a rope strong enough to carry a cable was finally in place. The cable was pulled across — and that provided the starting point for the foundation of the bridge.

“Building the Bridge to an Endowment”

How does this relate to planned giving? Because a simple, single kite with a single small thread (i.e., your first baby step) became the catalyst for a massive construction project that led to the bridge (i.e., your endowment).

It is amazing how many answers lie in simple solutions. Right in front of us.

So many fundraisers are “stunned” when they have to face the startup of a planned giving program — they envision it being a massive project and just do not know where to begin. Yet by following the same principle as the one used to build the suspension bridge, one can easily start a planned giving program with a few simple steps.

Some of the best minds in the planned giving world are involved in the Planned Giving Council of Greater Philadelphia (and one is me).  Take the first step by utilizing your resources!


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