If You (re)Build It, They Will Come

The Story of Lake Havasu and the London Bridge

Robert McCulloch was a fascinating guy. His grandfather made a fortune building powerplants for Thomas Edison and manufacturing trolley cars. He died the wealthiest man in Wisconsin. Robert and his two siblings inherited the fortune in 1925. The siblings spent their money on sports and educational pursuits. Robert kept up the industrial heritage. In addition to starting with a fortune, he was smart (graduated from Stanford) and apparently married well (the daughter of the co-founder of Briggs & Stratton).

So what did he do from that starting point? Well, he:

  • manufactured racing engines and turbochargers (until he sold this to Borg Warner)
  • started building small engines such as outboard motors, lawn mower engines, and most notably, creating the entire chainsaw market (yes, he is THAT McCulloch)
  • contracted with the big 3 automakers to put turbochargers in Thunderbirds and other models, spinning this off as another independent company
  • formed a company to work on gas exploration and alternative energy
  • designed his own prototype automobile where the hardtop retracted into the trunk. It was to burn alternative fuels to power a steam engine — in 1953
  • created a gyrocopter (combination helicopter and airplane), with the goal of having “an airplane in every garage.” He built 100 of them, but the market never materialized (which is a shame).

But perhaps his most famous venture was to make (at the time), the largest land purchase in Arizona history, where he built his own town (Lake Havasu City). To populate the town, he moved one of his factories there. Then to spur growth, he purchased the 130-year old London Bridge, dismantling it brick by brick and reassembling the numbered pieces (with a new reinforced concrete core) in the middle of the Arizona desert.

This was a very surprising win-win. London was looking to replace the bridge, and the purchase helped them finance a new one. McCulloch came up with a unique and highly profitable way to create tourism for his little town on the river in the middle of the nowhere.

And now Ellen and I are two of the latest people to come to add to the London Bridge success story. We did just what he said people would do. We came, just because of the bridge. We took pictures and are sharing them here, adding the the ongoing free advertising that the city enjoys. We spent money on lunch, ice cream and trinkets like Ellen’s new “made for the desert” hat. And we left with the message that y’all should come check it out also.

Smart guy, that McCulloch. Now if only someone would pick up on that gyrocopter idea.