PALM SPRINGS, CA - The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway constructed in rugged Chino Canyon on the north edge of Palm Springs - about two hours by car from Los Angeles and San Diego - did not just happen. It required foresight, planning, financing and, most of all a vision. For years, it was the dream of a young electrical engineer named Francis F. Crocker to "go up there where it's nice and cool". Crocker's dream began in 1935 while he was on a trip to Banning, California, with newspaper publisher Carl Barkow. Mopping his brow in the heat of the day, Crocker gazed on longingly at the still snow-capped peak of Mt. San Jacinto 10,834 feet high. At that moment, "Crocker's Folly,'' as it was soon dubbed by one newspaper woman, was born - a tramway up the sheer cliffs of Chino Canyon.
Even though the enthusiasm for the tramway idea was high locally, political roadblocks caused numerous disappointing setbacks. Twice, a tramway enabling bill passed the California State legislature, only to be vetoed by then Governor Culbert Olson. With the outbreak of World War II, the plans were shelved. However, Crocker's vision of a tramway to scale those cliffs to the coolness of the San Jacinto mountains never died. Years after the original plans were shelved, they were dusted off and the battle enjoined.
By 1950, technicians were moving ahead on designs for the Tramway, spending more than $250,000 solving riddles of road and tower construction. Funds for the construction of the Tramway were raised by the sale of $8.5 million in private revenue bonds. Not one cent of public funds was used for either the construction or operation of the Tramway. The 35-year bonds paid 5½ percent interest and were paid off in 1996. The Korean conflict was to cause yet another delay, but the ambitious project began to take form in July 1961. Construction of the Tramway was an engineering challenge and was soon labeled the "eighth wonder of the world.'' The superlative was earned because of the ingenious use of helicopters in erecting four of the five supporting towers. Some 20 years later, the Tramway was designated an historical civil engineering landmark. The first tower is the only one that can be reached by road. The helicopters flew some 23,000 missions during the 26 months of construction, hauling men and materials needed to erect the four other towers and the 35,000 sq. ft. Mountain Station.
Francis Crocker's dream was completed in 1963; the inaugural ride occurred on September 14th with scores of local and state dignitaries and celebrities on hand. In 1966 a 7,800 ft. granite spire in the canyon was dedicated to Coffman who died in August 1967; Francis Crocker died in 1992. The Tramway announced in 1998 that it was embarking on a modernization program that would see the construction and installation in 2000 of new cars and updating of its facilities. Beginning in September 2000, passengers rode the world's largest rotating Tram cars, constructed by the Tram's original car manufacturer, Von Roll Tramways (now owned by Dopplmayr Tramways). More than 12 million people have been safely transported by the Tramway into the majestic mountains overlooking the Coachella Valley since the attraction opened in September 1963.