“Steel Pier, the ‘Capital of Americana,’ was an entertainment destination never to be replicated.
It deserves a book of its own!”

-- Vicki Gold Levi, author of Atlantic City: One Hundred Twenty-Five Years of Ocean Madness
and a historical picture editor, photography curator, and co-founder of the Atlantic City Historical Museum.

Steel Pier, Atlantic City

Showplace of the Nation

By Steve Liebowitz

Benjamin Franklin
Awards finalist:

• Regional Book
• Cover Design
• Interior Design

of Steel Pier
Steel Pier
hardcover, 11-1/4” x 9-1/2”
263 pp., 227 Illustrations
ISBN-13 978-1-59322-036-5



It was aptly called the “Showplace of the Nation” and it was all that and more.

There were big bands, movies, sideshows, acrobats, flag-pole sitters, Miss America — and throngs of people lining up to sit on bleachers to watch World Famous High Diving Horses and their brave riders dive into a pool of water.

For much of the 20th century Steel Pier in Atlantic City was the center of American entertainment on the East Coast. Nearly every big-name entertainer — from John Philip Sousa and his band to Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Frank Sinatra – played there. And nearly every form of entertainment that could be imagined took place at Steel Pier — from high wire acts to people being shot out of cannons, from Hawaiian High Divers to the Diving Bell that took you to the sea floor.

There was the Marine Ballroom, and there was rock and roll. There were circus-like animal acts – “Rex The Wonder Dog,” a 70-ton Whale, Fortune-Telling Parakeets, Wild Animal Babies, and Boxing Cats.

This all-in-one entertainment Mecca, novel in its day, has never been matched, not even at latter-day theme parks. Where else could you take the entire family for a day and see the World of Tomorrow, Sousa and his band, a bear on a bicycle, and the High Diving Horses? Or take a ride below the sea, spend the evening in the marine ballroom, and see a movie — all for one ticket? It was a colossal offering of escape, popular culture, fun and fantasy.

They came in droves from the cities – Philadelphia, Camden, Pittsburgh, New York, Newark, Wilmington, Baltimore – throughout the northeast and beyond, by train and by car – entire families – drawn to this fantastic pier over the Atlantic Ocean. They were guided by billboards, kitschy roadside displays, and signs painted on inner city buildings. The marketing was hyperbolic – even by today's standards. But, with Steel Pier, the hype actually matched what was being offered.

Today, the novelty and innocence of the golden age of the Pier seems a world apart. Yet it was an institution — not to be missed. It was an empire of grand-thinking impresarios, oddities and glamour that meshed into one cohesive and attainable summer destination.

Steel Pier, Atlantic City: Showplace of the Nation, examines this attraction in a large-format, full-color coffee-table book. Author Steve Liebowitz begins with a brief history of seaside entertainment piers, competing piers in Atlantic City (such as Million Dollar, Heinz, and Steeplechase), and the uniquely American opportunities that Atlantic City presented its owners. The book carries us through incarnations of Steel Pier into the late 20th Century.

Filled with 227 historic photographs and other images, this book chronicles the rise of one of America’s most remarkable entertainment venues – “A Vacation In Itself,” as the slogan went – and how it mirrored American society from 1898-1978. For three-quarters of the last century, long before theme parks were imagined, there was nothing like it. Steel Pier was Atlantic City.

In fact, Steel Pier was an incredible combination of Broadway, Miami, Las Vegas, Hollywood, Barnum and Bailey, and a state fair – “All For One Low Admission.” Crowds were drawn from New Jersey, New York, and Philadelphia, of course, but also from the entire country. The renown of Steel Pier was so great that A-list performers chose the Pier over other venues.

A fascinating contribution to not only New Jersey and Atlantic City history, but also the history of American entertainment and popular culture, Steel Pier, Atlantic City evokes a time when there was so much invention, talent and industry that it could only be experienced in one place — at the edge of the continent, in a city that took its name from a vast ocean, on a great pier reaching out into the sea.

“An exhaustively researched and impressively illustrated history of what, for a large chunk of the 20th century, was celebrated far and wide as ‘the showplace of America.’”

—   Philadelphia Daily News

“Chronicling the Pier’s history — and more… in 263 picture-packed pages.”

—   The Press of Atlantic City

 “Celebrates Atlantic City’s magical Steel Pier.”

— Courier Post

“An homage to Atlantic City’s best-known entertainment mecca.”

—  Baltimore Jewish Times

  “Almost as much fun as a day on Steel Pier, and as close as you can get to it in the 21st century.”

—  The SandPaper

 “Covers the great entrepreneurs and showmen who made the pier run through the vaudeville acts and stars of the ‘20s and ‘30s, the diving horse era, the big band era and the rock’n roll of the ‘50s and ‘60s.”

— Atlantic City Weekly

 “The Pier’s glory days live again in Steel Pier, Atlantic City, a big nostalgic history of the pier…”

—  The Philadelphia Inquirer

“…As I turned the pages of this book and saw so many, many people having the time of their lives, I began to care, not so much about a place that has come and gone, but about the kind of imaginative, entrepreneurial spirit that made Atlantic City the fun, fascinating place it was. Someone should read this book, and make history repeat itself.”

—  The Philadelphia Inquirer


Steve Liebowitz has been researching Atlantic City entertainment history and the Steel Pier for many years. He has written articles for the Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Jewish Times, and Generations, the journal of the Jewish Museum of Maryland. He wrote about the old days of Wildwood, NJ in that Shore town’s newspaper for six years.

After writing and producing commercials for CBS Radio, he wrote, co-produced and co-hosted “The Rock & Leebo Show” and has now gone out on his own with his comedy sports program “The Leebo Show” heard in Baltimore.

A graduate of the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, he has also painted animation cels in Chicago’s Cioni Studio. Steve is a student of old theaters and show business history and is involved with historic preservation as a member of the Theatre Historical Society of America. He lives outside of Baltimore with his wife Andrea, where he dreams of living near an ocean and a boardwalk.

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