Crossing Victoria Falls – By Samuel Phineas Upham

This article was written by Samuel Phineas Upham,

The Zambezi River, which snakes through six countries in Africa, was difficult to cross until 1905. A bridge was plotted for construction, but up to that point the river was still filled with barges that crossed via steel cable.

These early traders faced strong currents and uneasy conditions attempting to get supplies to and from both sides of the Zambezi. When John Cecil Rhodes acquired the mineral rights north of the Zambezi, settlements began to spring up around Victoria Falls. Rhodes had an idea to construct a railway that would cross the river safely from above in trains, and he was insistent that the water from the falls hit the trains as they passed.

The bridge was constructed a full 420 feet above water level at the lowest point. Today, you can stand at the Victoria Falls hotel and witness this famous view, left almost as untouched as the day it was built. Unfortunately, Rhodes would not live to see his vision come to life.

The bridge was designed by George Andrew Hobson. The famous architect Sir Ralph Freeman, who would go on to design the Sydney Harbour Bridge, was involved in making the calculations for the bridge, helping to analyze the maximum stress that could be put on the bridge before collapse.

Today, the railway still receives some traffic. The original uses of the railway as a passenger and commerce path have largely fallen out of favor. The time of the great “shongolos,” the name given by natives to steam locomotives, has largely passed into history. This bridge remains a piece of the rich explorative history of Africa, where men fought furiously to chart the deepest parts of an unknown country.

About the Author: Samuel Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Samuel Phineas Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media & Technology group. You may contact Samuel Phineas Upham on his Twitter page.