Niagara Falls has long been a sought-after destination, enchanting visitors with its immense beauty, raw power, and spectacular panoramic views. Though it had been visited for thousands of years by indigenous peoples, the tourism industry around Niagara Falls truly began in the 19th century, with the construction of roads, railways, the Erie Canal and accommodations for visitors.
In 1604, the European exploration of the Niagara region was initiated by Frenchman Samuel de Champlain, who mentioned the falls in his diary. However, it wasn't until 1678 when the first recorded European, Franciscan monk Louis Hennepin, viewed the Falls and was enthralled by their size and grandeur.
As word of its magnificence spread, the number of visitors gradually increased. In the early 19th century, the city of Niagara Falls began developing infrastructure to accommodate the increasing tourist influx. The 1800s saw a significant boost in tourism with the advent of steam locomotives and the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, which provided easier and more affordable transportation for tourists.
In 1846, the first suspension bridge over the Niagara Gorge was built, creating another draw for visitors. Additionally, in 1855, the Niagara Falls State Park, America’s oldest state park, was established to preserve the land surrounding the falls and provide a public space for viewing.
With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, efforts were made to commercialize the Falls (click here for more information on Niagara Falls during the industrial age). However, by the end of the 19th century, concerns grew over the adverse effects of industrialization and the New York State government took action to preserve and protect the natural beauty of Niagara Falls. The Free Niagara Movement, spearheaded by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, resulted in reclaiming the falls for public enjoyment.
By the early 20th century, tourism was booming. Luxury hotels were erected, and the advent of the automobile made the Falls accessible to an even wider range of tourists. The Falls was marketed as both a natural wonder and a honeymoon destination, with numerous accommodations and attractions built to cater to tourists.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Niagara Falls saw another boom in tourism due to the post-World War II economic growth and the advent of paid vacations. Visitors came in droves to experience the raw power and immense beauty of the falls.
In 1959, The Niagara Reservation State Park was rechristened as the Niagara Falls State Park, and in the years since, various improvements have been made to accommodate and cater to the over 8 million people who visit the Falls annually.
Niagara Falls has continued to draw tourists from around the world to this day, and it's now more than just a natural attraction. Today's visitors also partake in a variety of recreational activities, enjoy a growing selection of fine dining options, and experience an assortment of cultural events and historical attractions, affirming the falls' enduring global appeal.