Aug 8, 1916

The Spanish Aero Car: Suspended in Time over Niagara

Torres Quevedo Museum

This aero car, designed by Leonardo Torres Quevedo, was a new kind of aerial cable transport system. More than 100 years on, this tourist attraction is still in operation.

Retrato de Leonardo Torres Quevedo, From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum

Leonardo Torres Quevedo was born on December 28, 1852 in Santa Cruz de Iguña (Cantabria, Spain). In 1870 he began his studies at the School of Civil Engineering in Madrid. When he finished in 1876, he decided he would work in the field of science, technology, and invention because of his passion for mathematics.

The aerocar overflying the rapids of the Whirlpool River, From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum

The Niagara Spanish Aero Car Company constructed a cable car over the Niagara River between 1915 and 1916, which was opened on August 8, 1916. The company's aim was to construct an aerial tram that would be popular with tourists.

Spanish Aerocar Over Whirlpool - Niagara Fall inauguration, From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum

The "Niagara Spanish Aero Car," as it was known at the time, was a new kind of passenger cable transport based on Torres Quevedo's patent called "Automatic hook and brake for aerial cars," dated January 22, 1915.

Drawing of the Whirlpool and Cableway, From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum

This drawing published in the press at the time shows the Niagara Whirlpool with the aero car traveling above it. It is suspended between 2 Canadian banks, crossing over into American territory.

Picture of the Spanish Aerocar over Niagara Fall, From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum

The aero car spans a distance of 550 meters and is 76 meters above the Niagara River in Canada. There have been no accidents in its more than 100-year history.

Cable Car of the Monte Ulía (Lower Station), From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum
Its Precursor: The Monte Ulía Cableway
Torres Quevedo built the first ever cableway suitable for passenger public transport at Monte Ulía in San Sebastián, Spain. It opened on September 30, 1907, but disappeared in 1912 as the Monte Igueldo amusement park became more popular with visitors.
Cable Car of the Monte Ulía (Lower Station), From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum

By the end of 1887 Leonardo Torres Quevedo had filed his first aerial tram patent, entitled "An aerial cable car system with multiple wires."

Spanish Aerocar Over Whirlpool - Niagara Fall, From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum

Thanks to its new system where each cable had a counterweight at the end, the tension remained constant, regardless of the weight of the load, making it completely safe.

Picture of the Aerocar in the Monte Ulía, From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum

Creating a funicular cableway that covered a large distance was an innovative idea, showing that Torres Quevedo's inventions were consistently original.

Cable Car. Carriage and mechanism for 50% slopes. Monte Ulía Cable Car, From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum

This design, featuring a route on an incline, was considered for the Monte Ulía aerial tram. However, it was never constructed.

The blueprint has 3 sections: plan, elevation, and profile. It was hand drawn in ink and watercolor.

Cable Car. Carriage and mechanism for 50% slopes. Monte Ulía Cable Car, From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum

Here we see part of the aerial tram plan and the mechanism for coping with 50% inclines. The scale is 1:10 and the plan is dated 1908.

Cable Car. Carriage and mechanism for 50% slopes. Monte Ulía Cable Car, From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum

The image shows the wires, shafts, and discs of the gondola.

Aerial Cable Car No 5. Cable Car, From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum

This is the design that was eventually used for the Monte Ulía aerial tram. It is a 1:10 scale drawing of cable car Number 5 with 3 sections: plan, elevation, and left profile. It is dated 1908.

Aerial Cable Car No 5. Cable Car, From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum

Torres Quevedo carefully considered technical aspects and details in the plans. The drawing of the gondola is meticulous, with each element precisely set out.

Aerial Cable Car No 5. Cable Car, From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum

The aerial tram was a highly complex technical project with characteristics that were almost inconceivable at the time. This image shows the mechanisms used to start the cableway moving.

Aerial Cable Car No 5. Cable Car, From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum

Close-up of the wires, shafts, and discs of the gondola.

Spanish Aerocar, From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum
Technical Complexity
Leonardo's research culminated in the construction of the Niagara Whirlpool Aero Car. His son, Gonzalo Torres y Polanco—who was a civil engineer like his father—managed the construction works.
Spanish Aerocar, From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum

The Torres Quevedo Museum in the School of Civil Engineering at the Technical University of Madrid (UPM) has a model from around the same time that is a faithful reproduction of the aero car.

- Car detail, From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum

The car was powered by a 50 horsepower (37 kW) electric motor and traveled at about 7 km/h. The cable load was 9 tons.

In the event of a power outage, a diesel generator propelled the car safely back to its dock.

New regarding the Spanish Aerocar opening in January 1916 in a Canadian newspaper, From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum
A Spanish Triumph in America
News of the opening of the Niagara Whirlpool Aero Car was widely covered in the media at the time.
Detail of one page in the Spanish passport, From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum

Even today, the final page of every Spanish passport depicts Torres Quevedo's aero car: evidence that the invention is still remembered and valued today.

Commemorative plaque of Leonardo Torres Quevedo's life's work in Niagara Parks, From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum

In 1991 the Niagara Parks Commission placed a commemorative plaque at the foot of the aero car, describing Torres Quevedo as "an ingenious Spanish engineer."

The aerocar in motion, From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum
Enduring through History
The real proof of the relevance, originality, and technical ability of Leonardo Torres Quevedo's inventions is that the Niagara Whirlpool Aero Car is still running today.
Start of one trip, From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum

The gondola is suspended by 6 cables. This means passengers can enjoy views over the whirlpool and its rapids, where the gorge turns sharply and descends into a narrow ravine.

All aboard the Torres Quevedo Aero Car!

Spanish Aerocar Stamp, From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum

En el año 1983, Correos emitió una serie de sellos conmemorativos de la construcción del Transbordador sobre el Niágara.

Passengers getting on board of the nacelle, From the collection of: Torres Quevedo Museum

In 2016 its centenary was celebrated with a commemorative event attended by the inventor's descendants and senior Spanish and Canadian figures.

The Chair of the Niagara Parks Commission said the fact that the aero car is still operating is "a living testament to the brilliance and foresight of the original designer and engineer, Spaniard Leonardo Torres Quevedo."

Museo Torres Quevedo
Credits: Story

Torres Quevedo Museum (Madrid)

Museum Director: Manuel Romana García
Editing: Miriam Guerrero Pérez
Texts: Miriam Guerrero Pérez and Consuelo Durán Cermeño
Advisors: Francisco González Redondo, Antonio López Vega, and María Pascual Nicolás
Documentation: Manuel Romana García, Consuelo Durán Cermeño, Miriam Guerrero Pérez
Image Sources: Museum collection, Francisco González Redondo Collection, Manuel Romana Collection, National Newspaper Library
Video Source: YouTube

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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