“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
BACK to main
hardcover, 11-1/4” x 9-1/2”
263 pp., 227 Illustrations
ISBN-13 978-1-59322-036-5


1898 - Steel Pier opens on June 18 with Minstrels, Grand Cakewalks, Children’s Novelty Balls, Promenade Concerts & Dances and Grand Sacred Concerts.

1908 - Motion pictures are first shown.

1920 - An Aero Exhibit in the Arcade and Ballroom present the Wireless Phone.

1922 - World-famous tenor Cantor Josef Rosenblatt performs in the Pier’s Convention Hall for the benefit of the Hebrew National Orphan Home of New York.

1925 - Businessman Frank Gravatt buys the Pier and begins its transformation into an entertainment complex. He expands the existing buildings and builds space for attractions such as the General Motors Exhibit.

1926 - Ted Weems’ Orchestra is the first name band to play in the Marine Ballroom, WPG radio becomes the only station on an ocean pier. Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel, becomes the first “big” name to draw a crowd. Famed Irish tenor John McCormack performs, tickets are $2.50 per seat.

1927 - Marion Talley, a star with the Metropolitan Opera, performs in May. John Philip Sousa, America’s “March King,” makes his Pier debut under Gravatt with two afternoon and two evening concerts.

1928 - “Nowhere else can you see so much for so little money,” say the ads. Hawaiian hula singers and dancers, surfboard riders, divers and swimmers perform as a nucleus for the Water Circus. Captain Wilkins, the famous aviator who flew over the North Pole, lectures alongside his plane.

1929 - The Diving Horse makes its Steel Pier debut — along with another first, the human cannonball — advertised on a new sign boasting the Pier as “The Showplace of the Nation.” Both feature female performers. Independence Day weekend features “Dutchy” Wilde, “the world’s greatest daredevil,” leaping into the ocean from a low-flying airplane – without a parachute. Lt. Cmdr. John Philip Sousa returns to the Music Hall to lead four concerts by his famous march band. “Television – the latest wonder invention of the electrical world,” is introduced.

1930 - “The World’s Mightiest Show –16 hours of continuous amusement starting at 10 AM every day – 20 world famous attractions for one admission.” George Jessel becomes the first vaudeville star to headline the Pier in the Music Hall, with Eddie Cantor following. A dead 70-ton whale is exhibited. The ocean end of Steel Pier features yacht races. The Pier remains open year round.

1931 - Exciting attractions are added including boxing cats, parachute jumping, an Autogiro plane and a rocket-powered glider. Ce-Dora defies death on a speeding motorcycle in a 16-foot globe, while six daredevil aerial acrobats perform 100 feet in the air. John Philip Sousa appears for the last time.

1932 - The steamship S.S. Steel Pier offers daily excursions from the end of the Pier. Pete, the “Our Gang” dog, begins an annual summer stay on the Pier, posing for pictures. Rudy Vallee makes his first of many appearances, bringing in record crowds along with Boris Karloff’s “Frankenstein” motion picture.

1933 - The Pier proclaims “It’s a Big Vacation in Itself.” The world’s largest captive sea elephant is exhibited. Top radio stars Amos ’N Andy appear on Easter and perform countless times between two theaters to accommodate enormous crowds. George Burns and Gracie Allen appear, as does new heavyweight champion Primo Carnera, who boxes with a kangaroo. A young Milton Berle also appears.

1934 - Broadcaster Lowell Thomas goes national from the Music Hall. “Belle of the Nineties,” a Mae West picture, makes its world premiere. On Labor Day, the Pier proclaims, “66 hours of consecutive entertainment – this morning at 8 AM we will be open.... until Tuesday, September 4 at 2 AM. ” Attractions include the radio cast of “The Goldbergs,” the opera “Carmen” sung in English, and Ozzie Nelson’s Orchestra with Harriett Hilliard.

1935 - Daddy Dave’s Kiddie Revue begins its regular run. “The Little House” exhibits the most modern appliances. Bob Hope, with wife Dolores Reade, appears in May, Guy Lombardo brings his orchestra in August. Miss America is crowned on Steel Pier, which hosts the pageant four more years. Major Bowes’ Amateur Hour is broadcast nationally from the Casino lobby in December.

1936 - Ford opens an exhibit in the front of the Pier. The comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello joins the minstrel troupe. Rex joins the Water Circus as the world’s only aquaplane-riding dog. Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey bring their famous big bands. The Three Stooges also first appear.

1937 - Rising comics Red Skelton and Henny Youngman make their Pier debuts. Child prodigy Bobby Short appears in a vaudeville Christmas program.

1938 - The Kennel Club of Atlantic City holds its 19th Annual Dog Show, with 600 dogs and 80 breeds present. Drummer Gene Krupa debuts his orchestra in the Marine Ballroom to a packed crowd of screaming fans. Benny Goodman broadcasts his “Camel Caravan” show nationwide from the Ballroom in August.

1939 - The Harry James Band plays for the Easter crowd, and an unknown singer named Frank Sinatra makes his Steel Pier debut with the band. The Four Ink Spots become the first African-American headliners, and the Andrews Sisters first appear.

1940 - Legendary bandleader Glenn Miller appears in August.

1941 - Elsie, the famous Borden cow, is exhibited in her own boudoir. Future “Honeymooners” star Art Carney is an unknown in a July vaudeville program. Abbott and Costello, now stars, return as their film “Hold That Ghost” plays in the movie theater. Rising singer Dinah Shore appears, as does the Artie Shaw Band.

1942 - First season for a trip to the ocean bottom in the Diving Bell. Admission for servicemen is 30 cents at all times, plus they can also send a record back home to their loved ones for free. Wild man Louis Prima and his band perform.

1943 - The minstrels hang it up due to indifference and the loss of many entertainers to wartime. Jimmy Durante is one of the few big names to appear this summer.

1944 - New heartthrob singer Perry Como is featured in August. September hurricane causes havoc in Atlantic City and destroys the Water Circus.

1945 - George Hamid buys the Pier from Gravatt, continuing “all for one admission.” The Exhibit of Bombs - “See close up the kind of bombs our planes are dropping on the Japs.” Rising comedian Jackie Gleason hits the Music Hall stage.

1946 - The Harry James Band draws 27,000 people on Easter. “The Outlaw,” a risqué Western produced by Howard Hughes, receives major publicity and an appearance by star Jane Russell. Rosemary Clooney makes her debut with Tony Pastor’s Band.

1947 - The General Motors Exhibit returns to the front of the Pier.

1948 - Television is featured on a giant screen in the Ocean theater. Peggy Lee sings in the Music Hall with husband Dave Barbour and his trio.

1949 - Tony Grant takes over the Kiddie Revue and stays until the Pier’s final days.

1950 - All-around entertainer Danny Kaye arrives in July. Frank Sinatra’s non-stop Labor Day performances for record crowds cause him to temporarily lose his voice.

1951 - Billy Eckstine becomes the first solo African-American singer to headline on the Pier. He is supported by new comedian Alan King.

1952 - The Steel Pier radio show broadcasts live from the Lobby almost daily from 11:35 p.m. to 5 a.m. with guest stars and promotions. Guitarist Les Paul appears with wife Mary Ford. Gary Cooper’s “High Noon” keeps moviegoers captivated.

1953 - The famed Diving Horses return. Young comic Joey Bishop is part of the bill with singer Fran Warren. New singers Tony Bennett and Eddie Fisher appear. Louis Armstrong is the first African-American musician to headline, but plays the Music Hall, not the Ballroom. The Casino is remodeled and renamed the Ocean Theater.

1954 - Former bandleader Paul Whiteman begins a weekly ABC television series, “On the Boardwalk,” broadcasting every Sunday from the Midway theater. Popular music is changed forever as Bill Haley and the Comets rock the Music Hall.

1956 - Teen idol Pat Boone stars in July, jazz-stylist Sarah Vaughan in August.

1957 - An eclectic bill in July presents singers The Diamonds, pop singer Steve Lawrence, and the orchestra of Woody Herman.

1958 - Philadelphia radio disc jockeys Joe Grady and Ed Hurst begin record hops, some televised from the Pier. Danny and the Juniors, Connie Francis and Paul Anka are booked. The Pier’s wildest day ever is September 1, when over 44,000 pay to witness Ricky Nelson’s first public appearance.

1959 - Teen idols Fabian, Bobby Darin and Frankie Avalon appear.
1960 - Bobby Vinton and Johnny Cash arrive, as does Dick Clark’s “Cavalcade of Stars,” featuring Bobby Rydell, the Crew Cuts and more.

1961 - Chubby Checker becomes the first black rock ‘n’ roll headliner.

1962 - A monster storm in March pushes a barge through the Pier, destroying the Home of the Century and leaving the Marine Ballroom cut off.

1964 - Duke Ellington is the first African-American band leader to play the Marine Ballroom. The Beatles’ movie “A Hard Day’s Night” plays the Pier.

1965 - The Supremes, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Herman’s Hermits, Peter and Gordon, and Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs all headline. Future Vegas star Wayne Newton also makes an appearance.
1966 - The Rolling Stones appear July 1 for two shows, along with the McCoys and the Standells. Stan Kenton and his band play in the Ballroom that day. Others this summer are Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra Jr. and the Count Basie Band.
1967 - Ray Charles performs during the Independence Day holiday.

1968 - The Giant Skywheel, a ride directly from the New York World’s Fair, opens on the Pier. Top acts include the Beach Boys and the Box Tops.

1969 - Tiny Tim proclaims his love for Miss Vicki on the Music Hall stage. The Marine Ballroom, Water Circus and a portion of the Pier is destroyed by fire.

1970 - A geodesic Gold Dome replaces the Ballroom on the Pier’s outer end. The Ocean World Theatre of the Sea opens in the vacated General Motors space.

1971 - George Hamid dies May 28 at age 75. The Allman Brothers and the Cowsills are featured in July. Cab Calloway and Chuck Berry appear.

1973 - George Hamid Jr. sells the Pier to a group of businessmen on January 16, but will lease it for two more years. The “Brady Bunch” Kids appear on May 25.

1974 - More TV stars appear, including Danny Bonaduce of “The Partridge Family” and Barry Williams of “The Brady Bunch.”

1976 - The new owners remodel the entire Pier, discard all of the classic signs and tear down the Music Hall and Midway theaters. The Bay City Rollers perform to a frenzied crowd. Woody Herman leads the last big band to play Steel Pier.

1978 - The Pier closes for the last time in September, effectively signaling an end to the Diving Horse act and Tony Grant’s “Stars of Tomorrow.”

1979 - Frank Gravatt dies on January 28 at age 89. The Casino building is used sporadically for boxing and wrestling events.

1982 - Primarily used for storage, most of Steel Pier burns to the ground in a December arson.

1988 - The dilapidated Gold Dome, Water Circus area and Diving Bell are finally torn down as a New Steel Pier arises.

2011 - On August 3, after leasing the Pier for 20 years, the Catanoso family and partners bought Steel Pier from Trump Entertainment for $4.25 million.


“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

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