Travels & Traditions: Atlantic City, New Jersey - #601

BURT WOLF: On July 1st 1854 the Camden and Atlantic City Railroad began service between Philadelphia Pennsylvania and Absecon Island which had recently been renamed Atlantic City. The line was 60 miles long and the trip took about two and a half hours. The railroad was part of a real estate promotion -- the same type of scheme that was being used to open up the American west.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: First you bought as much inexpensive land as you could and assembled it into one large tract. Then you built a railroad connecting the cheap land to a major metropolitan center.

BURT WOLF POPS INTO FRAME: Suddenly, your land was worth a fortune so you sold most of it off. But you continued to make money because you owned the railroad that connected the new development to the old city.

BURT WOLF: The Atlantic City promotion was put together by Richard Osborne who had seen how it worked during a visit to the west coast. His partner was Dr. Jonathan Pitney who was well known among the wealthy families of Philadelphia.

Dr. Pitney made the plan particularly appealing to investors by pointing out that the polluted hot summer air of Philadelphia was a source of disease. While the pure sea air of Atlantic City could cure consumption, asthma, rheumatism, pneumonia and with a long enough stay -- insanity. You’d have to be nuts to summer in a metropolitan area when Atlantic City was so close. Simple plan and it worked. By 1900, the trip from Philadelphia took only 60 minutes and Atlantic City was America’s favorite seaside resort.


BURT WOLF: During the spring of 1855, the city government employed America’s first official life guard. He was known as a “constable of the surf” and everyday, between 11am and 2pm, he walked the beach in a bathing suit, ready to respond to any emergency.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: As more and more people entered the surf a volunteer lifeguard service developed. At the end of each rescue they would solicit donations from the crowd that had witnessed the event. Unfortunately many of those rescues were staged and not real and the funds that they derived went to an activity that consisted primarily of drinking in the local bar.

BURT WOLF: In 1892, the city replaced the volunteers with a professionally organized and fully funded beach patrol. It was the first of its kind in the world and it is still in operation.

CHIEF ROD ALUISE ON CAMERA: Today we have fifty boats and fifty lifeguard towers watching our bathers in Atlantic

City. The classic Atlantic City rescue is brought on by a riptide usually. More people are caught in riptides that any other condition that requires a rescue. We use a row boat, two lifeguards in other boats towards the victim; they are supported by swimmers on hand buoys.


BURT WOLF: Atlantic City has a unique beach. It is unusually wide and the sand is extremely soft. It was, and still is, a major attraction. But during the 1800s, it was less attractive to the owners of the Camden and Atlantic Railroad. Passengers were continually dragging sand into their cars. And the owners of the grand beachfront hotels found it even more annoying as guests shuffled sand into their oriental carpets. The railroad and the hotels needed something that would allow visitors to stroll along the beach but keep their feet out of the sand.

On the 16th of June 1870, railroad conductors and hotel owners rejoiced at the opening of the first section of the Atlantic City boardwalk. It was one mile long, ten feet wide, and cost five thousand dollars. A city ordinance prevented the establishment of any commercial activities within thirty feet of the walk. At the end of each season the boards were taken up and stored until spring.

The present boardwalk was put in place in 1916 and incorporated a number of improvements. From the very beginning the Atlantic City boardwalk was associated with romantic encounters. It was a place to meet, to be inspired by the seaside setting and to flirt.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Judging from historical documents of the period, and my own personal experience, romance can affect your sense of balance in ways you might never expect. There were daily reports of people falling off the boardwalk while flirting. And so railings were introduced and people pretty much stopped flirting.

BURT WOLF: Some inhabitants were offended by the public display of affection and even though they were originally introduced for the benefit of people with disabilities, the semi-private environment of the rolling chair became extremely popular.

An authentic antique rolling chair and the rest of Atlantic City’s history is preserved in the Atlantic City Historical Museum which sits just off the boardwalk on Garden Pier.

HERB STERN ON CAMERA: The museum was founded by a few local people who had a collection on their own and wanted to save some of the things that they had, was about 20 years ago when it was first started. This case has a lot of the pictures of the old boardwalk hotels and a lot of the souvenirs. There’s a gown and a robe from the past Miss Americas. A lot of things about the beach and the boardwalk and the beach patrol, bathing beauties, a lot of fun things and a lot of important things.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Salt water taffy was created in 1883 by an accident or an Act of God depending on your viewpoint. It was a guy named David Bradley and he had a little candy stand on side of the Boardwalk. And one night there was an unusually high tide that soaked his stock. The next day a little girl came in and asked for some taffy. And Bradley wanting to be sarcastic said “salt water taffy you mean”. The little girl walked outside and said to her mother “The man called it salt water taffy.” And Bradley soon realized that this was going to give him an enormous marketing advantage.

BURT WOLF: The business is being run by Frank Glaser whose family has been making candy for five generations.

FRANK J. GLASER ON CAMERA: The James and Fralinger’s both started in the 1880’s. Both were intense competitors for years til about the 1990’s when luckily I became the owner of both companies. I’ve kept them separate. I’ve kept the product separate. There are different ingredients in both and we kept the packaging completely separate. 

The process of making salt water taffy really starts with the cooking. We take the main ingredients, sugar, corn syrup and a few special secret ingredients, put them into a stainless-steel kettle and cook them up to the desired temperature. Once we hit that temperature then we pump or suck the batch into a vacuum chamber. Now that vacuum chamber is basically cooking it very quickly, flashes off the rest of the moisture, makes it a very nice dry tender piece of candy. Once we’re done with that process then we cool it.

Once it’s cooled to the desired temperature then we pull it. That aerates it, makes it chewy, it’s not as dense, and that’s when we add the flavor and the color to bring out the flavors of the taffy. Once we’re finished pulling the taffy we run it through a cut and wrap machine. That’s about seven hundred pieces of taffy going through the machine a minute. And we wind up with a finished piece of salt water taffy ready for the store.


BURT WOLF: The first of the grand hotels to be built in Atlantic City was The United States Hotel. It was opened in 1854 and charged $3.50 for a deluxe accommodation. The United States was followed by dozens of new hotels each catering to the specific needs of its clientele.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Some people came to Atlantic City to recover their health; some people came to hang out with members of their social set, and some people came to walk the boardwalk in the hope of finding romance. Of course, if you played your cards right, you could probably find romance, recover your health and marry into the social set of your dreams. Atlantic City has always been promoted as a place where anything could happen. And it still is.

BURT WOLF: On July 3, 2003 the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa opened in the middle of Atlantic City’s Marina District. It was the first new casino to be built in the city for over ten years and it represented the newest generation of accommodations.

MIKE FACENDA ON CAMERA: The market pretty much was telling us they wanted something that was fun, upscale, international, sensual and energetic and that’s what we decided to build here.

BURT WOLF: It has over 2,000 guest rooms and suites, 11 restaurants, a 50,000 square foot spa and a casino with 3,600 slot machines and 170 tables.

Victor Tiffany is in charge of food and beverage.

VICTOR TIFFANY ON CAMERA: Susanna Foo’s a wonderfully talented chef. We built a beautiful restaurant for her here. This is only her second restaurant. She uses the best, freshest ingredients. She’s often at the market, she’s also at the fish market, she picks out a lot of the produce herself. Honestly delicious.

BURT WOLF: I opened with a trio of crab. Crab salad, crab spring roll, and a shrimp and crab cake. Then a taste of Susana’s seared tuna. And finally honey walnut chicken with mango.

VICTOR TIFFANY: Old Homestead we like to say opens up a new restaurant every 125 years or so. So this is their second outpost. Casinos and steak seem to go hand in hand.

BURT WOLF: Suggested starters were clams casino, a wedge of iceberg lettuce with blue cheese dressing and apple wood bacon and the chef’s bread. Then a prime steak, classic creamed spinach and hashed brown potatoes. For dessert, cheesecake, triple chocolate cake and crème Brule. I have no idea what the crew ordered.

At the start of the 21st century, Atlantic City once again needed to adjust its image. It could no longer prosper as a location for older gamblers who were bused in for the day. It had to become a vacation destination that was also attractive to non-gamblers.

It opened an elaborate area for shopping, under the theory that if you won in the casinos, emotionally you wanted to go shopping, and if you lost in the casinos, emotionally you needed to go shopping.

The Quarter at the Tropicana is a shopping, dining and entertainment area designed to look like an idealized neighborhood in pre-revolutionary Havana. The Cuba Libra Restaurant & Rum Bar has a Cuban menu, authentic salsa, Latin music and an area for smoking cigars.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: When they hear the word Havana many people think about cigars. But there are things you need to know to pick a good cigar. You want it to be firm, no soft spots, nothing cracking or breaking away. No water marks. Whether it has a band or not is unimportant. You want it to be made from the finest ingredients, and you want it to have a great aroma. And whether its milk chocolate or dark chocolate is really up to you.

BURT WOLF: And in keeping with the theme of socialist republics, we find Red Square, a vodka, caviar bar and restaurant that will lend you a fur coat so you can sit in a freezer while they sip vodka served at 10 degrees below zero.


BURT WOLF: And to celebrate your survival in the freezer they offer a martini multi-pour. And just down the street is The Sound of Philadelphia that offers Soul, R&B and Jazz.

FEMALE SINGER SINGSThe love, the love, the love, I lost…


BURT WOLF: During the Second World War German submarines patrolled the waters just off the coast of Atlantic City and were a constant source of danger to our ships.

Submarines, both German and American were on the minds of local residents when the war ended.

In 1946, in commemoration of the submarine service of the United States, the White House Sub Shop introduced the sub sandwich.

PHIL “MOUSIE” LAROCCA ON CAMERA: These are your most popular sandwiches, your cheese steak and your Italian hoagie. We do quality sandwich, the sandwiches never change the whole time we’ve

been here and we’ve been here going on 59 years.

BURT WOLF: The walls are covered with photographs of famous devotees of the White House Sub and some truly bazaar celebrity memorabilia.

PHIL “MOUSIE” LAROCCA ON CAMERA: We’ve had everybody in here. Vic Damone, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Sammy Davis Junior. Frank Sinatra I don’t every remember him being in here I’ll be telling the truth. He would always call and if he was in Vegas or somewhere somebody would get it ready in a box. They’d fly it to Vegas and he fed all his people. Any activity goes on they come in here.


BURT WOLF: In 1895, Charles Fey, a San Francisco machinist built the first slot machine. It had three spinning wheels with images based on the suits in a deck of cards. Each wheel also had an illustration of the Liberty Bell. Three bells in a row produced the big payoff -- fifty cents. He placed it in a local saloon as a test and it was an immediate success and he’d became the father or perhaps godfather of the slot machine business. The modern versions are controlled by microprocessors and utilize elaborate themes but they are all derivative of Fey’s one-armed bandit.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: They were originally introduced in the 1930s as a source of entertainment for the wives and girlfriends of the high rollers who were over at the table games. By 1990 they had surpassed the tables games. Today two-thirds of the income for a casino in the United States come from the slot machines.

BURT WOLF: Slots are attractive because the game is played at the pace of the player. Things can move as fast or as slow as you please. In addition slots don’t require any special skill.

Gambling particularly slot machines are not just about winning money. A properly designed slot machine should also be a source of entertainment. If you win some money, hey that’s great. If not, you should be getting your money’s worth in entertainment.

One of the great entertainers in the slot machine category is Mac Seelig the founder of the AC Coin & Slot Company.

MAC SEELIG ON CAMERA: People are here for entertainment today Burt. They don’t look just to play a slot machine. If you look around this whole casino you see different types of games that have different top boxes on them so it’s not the old slot machine that we knew thirty, forty years ago. The ergonomics have become very important to the player. In the original days you have a very nothing box with a very nothing chair. Chairs are more comfortable so people sit longer and not get uncomfortable. So the entertainment factor plus the comfort factor people have more fun and they stay longer.


BURT WOLF: The all time best-selling board game is Monopoly.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Pennsylvania Railroad. 

MAN’S VOICE: Who owns that? It’s for sale.

BURT WOLF: I’ll buy it. How much is it?

MAN’S VOICE: Two hundred dollars.

BURT WOLF: Since its introduction in 1930, millions of sets have been sold. The game is based on the buying, selling and trading of real estate and was transformed by Charles Darrow who lived in Philadelphia. But he did not use the names of Philadelphia streets and corporations on his board. All of the properties are based on streets in Atlantic City which Darrow came to know because of his frequent vacations to the beach.

When Darrow finished his redesign he tried to sell Monopoly to the Parker Brothers Toy Company. But Parker turned it down.

MAN’S VOICE: Okay big roll.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Darrow decided to go ahead on his own and manufactured a few thousand sets which he sold in Philadelphia stores. They were an immediate success. Parker Brothers saw the error of their ways, revised their opinion, and bought the rights from Darrow. His royalties made him so wealthy it was almost as if he owned Boardwalk.


BURT WOLF: Kites were probably invented about 3,000 years ago in China. They have been used to send up signal flags, drop propaganda leaflets, spy on enemy armies, send radio signals, forecast the weather, conduct scientific experiments, and contact the gods.

Kites are still used by scientists and explorers but these days most kites are flown as a sport and the perfect place to fly one is the beach at Atlantic City. The people to fly with are the members of the South Jersey Kite Flyers, a local kite club that promotes kite flying as a hobby and an art form. They organize kite flies, attend kite festivals, and conduct kite making workshops for children and adults and adults that behave like children. Most of all they just go out to have fun.

What’s the best way to launch a kite?

KITE FLYER: Well, if you have really good wind it will practically launch by itself, if not you have a helper.

BURT WOLF: Okay let me be the helper. What do I do?

KITE FLYER: Just going to hold it up. Okay, when I say let it go – you’re just going to let it go.

Okay, let it go.

BURT WOLF: Up - Up - Fly - Fly


BURT WOLF: During the summer of 1919, aviation pioneers from all over the world flew into Atlantic City for the Pan American Aeronautical Congress. The city had put aside a special field for their use. The press covered the event and described the field as an “airport” -- it was the first time the title was officially used.

Today the new Atlantic City airport is used by over one million passengers each year. It’s big enough to offer all the services of a major airport but small enough to offer easy access. But being Atlantic City it’s not enough to be the first flying field to be called an airport. You need to have something that brings additional attention.

FEMALE VOICE SPACE SHUTTLE: Time to touch down now. Thirty-four seconds.

BURT WOLF: Accordingly, the South Jersey Transportation Authority built an airport with a 10,000 foot runway designed to be an alternative landing site for the Space Shuttle.


MAN’S VOICE: Put on the breaks.


ANNOUNCER SINGS: Oh, there she is, Miss America…

BURT WOLF: On September 7th, 1921 sixteen year old Margaret Gorman became the first Miss America.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The idea for the Miss America Pageant came from a group of Atlantic City business men who wanted to extend the season by one more weekend. They settled on a post Labor Day event that would include a parade of rolling chairs, a Revue of Bather’s, some night time extravaganza and a beauty contest.

ANNOUNCER: Atlantic City…Youthful and relaxing…

BURT WOLF: From the beginning of its history Atlantic City worked hard to promote itself to the rest of the world. The Miss America Pageant is only one example. These days the big events include the Race Across America and the Atlantic City Air Show.

For over 150 years Atlantic City has been attracting high rollers. For Travels & Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.