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Annie Edson Taylor: First Person to Survive Going Over Niagara Falls in a Wooden Barrel

Readmikenow has written about various medical conditions. He has previously written a series of articles on Polyarteritis nodosa.

Annie Edson Taylor with Wooden Barrel

Annie Edson Taylor with Wooden Barrel

With a desire to be financially secure in her later years, Annie Edson Taylor had a unique idea. She was a 63-year-old former school teacher and decided to become the first person to survive going over Niagara Falls in a wooden barrel. One of the biggest struggles she had was getting people to help her. Nobody seemed to have a desire to be part of something they considered to be a person committing suicide.

Early Life

On October 24, 1838, Annie Edson Taylor was born in Auburn, New York. Taylor had seven siblings. Her father's name was Merrick Edson and her mother's name was Lucretia Waring. Taylor's father was a businessman who owned and operated a flour mill. When she was twelve, her father died. He did leave behind enough money for his family to live comfortably.

Work and Marriage

Taylor received an honors degree in a training course that lasted for four years. She then became a school teacher. When she was training, Taylor met David Taylor. The two were married and had a son. Their child died in infancy. Soon after this happened, Taylor's husband died in the Civil War. She was then between jobs and moved often. Taylor went to Bay City, Michigan. Since the city had no dance schools, she opened one. This didn't go well, In 1900, she moved to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and worked at teaching music. After this, Taylor went to San Antonio, Texas. After not finding any employment opportunities there, she went to Mexico City with a friend to look for work. Taylor was unsuccessful and returned to Bay City, Michigan.

Valued Money

When Taylor was going to San Antonio, Texas, the stagecoach she was on was held up by robbers. When a gun was placed against her head, a robber then demanded she give them her money. She told the robber to shoot because she would rather not have her brains than be without her money. The robbers were shocked at her behavior and let her go. Taylor valued money. To her it equaled independence and that is something she valued above everything else.


Taylor read about the Pan-American Exposition taking place near Niagara Falls. She claimed the idea to go over Niagara Falls hit her like a flash of light. Taylor was determined. The fact that nobody had ever done it before didn't matter to her. She liked how it would not harm anyone but herself. Taylor quickly designed a prototype of the barrel. She created a paper pattern and sewed it together with twine. The final barrel was built with white Kentucky oak. It had ten hoops and every four inches had rivets.

Annie Taylor Barrel Design

Annie Taylor Barrel Design

Getting into Wooden Barrel

It was October 24, 1901, when Annie Edson Taylor was taken by a rowboat to the middle of the Niagara River. Her wooden barrel was towed alongside the rowboat. When she was at the edge of the rapids, Taylor took off her street skirt, hat, and coat. Two assistants helped Taylor carefully get into a wooden barrel that measured five feet long and three feet in diameter. Two cushions were placed inside the barrel for padding. Taylor then strapped herself into a leather harness. The lid was then screwed tightly shut. She was alone in the darkened inside of the barrel. The barrel with Taylor inside was then released from the rowboat. It bobbed up and down in the water as the wooden barrel made its way toward Niagara Falls.

Annie Taylor and barrel being taken toward falls

Annie Taylor and barrel being taken toward falls

Going over Niagara Falls

Traveling toward the falls, the barrel bounced over rocks and at times became completely submerged under the water. It then quickly went back to the surface. At the very edge of the falls, the barrel paused and then went over Niagara Falls. It then plunged straight down for approximately 158 feet.

Inside the Barrel

Taylor described her descent down the falls as something that was absolute horror. She said she knew when the barrel hit the water on the lower river. Taylor said this is when she began to suffer. According to her, the barrel whirled around and she felt like a dasher inside a churn. It was then she started to feel unconscious. A boat from the tour company, Maid of the Mist, recovered the barrel. Once the wooden barrel was taken out of the water, the top of it was quickly removed. When it was taken away, a man looked in and yelled how the woman in the barrel was alive. Those who were present said Taylor responded by saying she was alive but was a little hurt and felt very confused. With the exception of a small cut on her head, she was uninjured. The time from the beginning to end of her stunt lasted less than twenty minutes. Removing the lid to the barrel took longer.

Annie Taylor being helped to shore after surviving stunt

Annie Taylor being helped to shore after surviving stunt

Newspaper Reporting Annie Taylor surviving Niagara Falls stunt

Newspaper Reporting Annie Taylor surviving Niagara Falls stunt

After Stunt

Once Taylor recovered from her trip over Niagara Falls, her manager left town. He took her barrel with him. Taylor was upset as she had hoped to have used it as part of her future lectures. She was able to earn a moderate amount of money speaking about her experience. Taylor did not become wealthy. She spent a significant amount of money hiring detectives to find her barrel. It was found in Chicago but soon disappeared to never be located again. Toward the end of her life, Taylor had a souvenir stand in Niagara Falls and would pose for photographs with tourists. She also provided therapeutic treatments, worked as a clairvoyant, and more.

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Annie Taylor Souvenir Stand

Annie Taylor Souvenir Stand


On April 29, 1929, Taylor died. She was 82 and died at the Niagara County Infirmary. On May 5, 1921, her funeral was held. Taylor died penniless. She was buried in Niagara Falls at Oakwood Cemetery. The tombstone over her grave was paid for by her friends as well as some admirers.



New York Times


America Comes Alive

© 2020 Readmikenow


Readmikenow (author) on September 02, 2020:

Mary, thanks. Nobody can doubt her determination to succeed.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on September 02, 2020:

What a brave and driven person she was. Thank you for writing about her.

Readmikenow (author) on September 01, 2020:

Eric, thanks. She must have been an interesting person.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on September 01, 2020:

What a great story. Just amazing.

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