It’s one of the most popular and iconic destinations in both the United States and Canada, but you may not know all of these facts about Niagara Falls.
1. NIAGARA FALLS IS ACTUALLY THREE SEPARATE WATERFALLS.
Straddling the border between the United States and Canada, Niagara Falls consists of the Horseshoe (or Canadian), the American, and the Bridal Veil falls. All three waterfalls originate in the Niagara River, which stretches 36 miles from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. The Horseshoe Falls are the widest and highest of the three, measuring 2200 feet across with an average drop of 188 feet. The American Falls come in second at 940 feet wide and, due to large boulders at the base, drop between 90 and 120 feet. The smaller Bridal Veil Falls boast a drop that is about the same as the American Falls, but they are only 45 feet wide.
2. IT'S THE BIGGEST WATERFALL IN NORTH AMERICA, BUT NOT IN THE WORLD.
Approximately 3,160 tons of water flow over the Falls every second, working out to about 660 tons over the American and Bridal Veil falls and 2,500 tons at Horseshoe. Niagara Falls is the largest waterfall in North America in terms of both width and volume, but there are nearly 500 waterfalls around the world that are higher, such as the 1600-foot Ribbon Fall in Yosemite.
3. ALL OF THE GREAT LAKES CONNECT TO NIAGARA FALLS.
Three of the Great Lakes (Superior, Huron, and Michigan) drain into Lake Erie, which in turn drains into the Niagara River. The River then plummets into Lake Ontario via the Falls.
4. THE FALLS ARE FAIRLY YOUNG, GEOLOGICALLY.
The same glacial forces that created the Great Lakes more than 12,000 years ago created the Niagara River and the many features that eventually made up the Falls. Melting glacial ice emptied into the Niagara River, cut across the topography, and gouged out the falls. As geographic wonders go, the falls are still in their infancy. The Appalachians began forming around 500 million years ago, while parts of Mammoth Cave are 10 million years old.
5. A FRENCH PRIEST WAS THE FIRST EUROPEAN TO DOCUMENT THE FALLS.
In 1604, Samuel de Champlain made the first reference to a waterfall in the area, but his account isn’t very accurate. Because of the inconsistencies in his story, most historians believe that he was passing on what he heard from the native peoples he encountered. The first eyewitness documentation was Father Louis Hennepin, who saw the falls during a 1678 expedition, and later returned to France and published a book, A New Discovery, which documented the overwhelming impression the falls made on him. The word Niagara is probably derived from the Iroquois word Onguiaahra, which means “the strait.”
6. THE NIAGARA FALLS STATE PARK IS THE COUNTRY'S OLDEST.
In 1885 New York Governor David B. Hill signed legislation creating the Niagara Reservation, widely agreed to be the first state park in both New York and the United States.
7. FREDERICK LAW OLMSTEAD HELPED PRESERVE THE FALLS.
The creator and designer of New York City’s Central Park was enamored with the beauty of Niagara Falls and prepared a report and authored a petition signed by numerous cultural and political figures that urged the state of New York to acquire private land around the falls in order to preserve the natural beauty of the area. He co-founded the Niagara Falls Association in 1883, and after the approval of the Niagara Reservation he became the park’s landscape architect along with his partner, Calvert Vaux.
8. THE FALLS PRODUCE A LOT OF ELECTRICITY.
The first hydroelectric station was built on the Niagara River in 1881, and by 1896 the plant was able to transmit electricity 26 miles away to Buffalo, one of the most important events in the history of alternating current. In 1961, after Congress passed the Niagara Redevelopment Act, the New York State Power Authority opened the Niagara Power Plant. Today the plant generates 2.4 million kilowatts of power and is the fourth largest hydroelectric power plant in the United States.
9. IT'S BEEN A TOURIST DRAW FOR OVER A CENTURY.
The completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 made accessing the falls much easier, and by the late 19th century the area had become known as the Honeymoon Capital of the World. Today more than 12 million people visit the Falls and the surrounding areas each summer. Favorite excursions include the Maid of the Mist boat tour, which takes visitors into the basin of Horseshoe Falls, and a trip 175 feet down to the very edge of the Bridal Veil falls.
10. A 63-YEAR-OLD WOMAN WAS THE FIRST PERSON TO PLUNGE OVER THE FALLS.
Over the years around 15 daredevils have attempted the dangerous plummet over the Falls, many in homemade barrels. But the first to attempt it was 63-year-old widow Annie Edson Taylor. Desperately poor, Taylor visited the Falls in 1901, then attempted to become rich and famous by going over Horseshoe Falls in a barrel she designed herself. Horseshoe Falls was a smart choice—the American Falls feature a shorter drop, but the trip would be considerably more dangerous, as the basin is littered with enormous boulders.
On October 24, 1901, at about 4 p.m., the barrel was set adrift in the Niagara River and went over the falls 20 minutes later. Although she survived the plunge, Taylor cautioned “Don’t try it” to other potential daredevils, and she never made the fortune she dreamed of, dying penniless in 1921.
11. HOLLYWOOD HAS LONG LOVED NIAGARA FALLS.
In 1953 Marilyn Monroe starred in Niagara opposite Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters, and Max Showalter. Monroe and Cotten portray a couple honeymooning at the falls who become entrenched in sex, lies, and murder. The falls also provided the setting for the opening of 1980’s Superman II, and Jim and Pam were married on the Maid of the Mist in a 2009 episode of The Office.