Home 9 Daredevils of Niagara Falls 9 Annie Edson Taylor – First Niagara Daredevil 

Annie Edson Taylor - First Niagara Daredevil

Annie Edson Taylor, a schoolteacher, became the first person to survive a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel on her 63rd birthday, October 24, 1901. Her daring feat made her famous, but she died penniless, and her funeral was funded by public donations. This article will explore the life of Annie Edson Taylor, her journey to Niagara Falls, the challenges she faced, and her legacy.

Early Life

Annie Edson Taylor was born on October 24, 1838, in Auburn, New York. She was one of eight children of Merrick Edson, who owned a flour mill, and Lucretia Waring. Her father died when she was twelve years old, leaving enough money to provide a comfortable living for the family. Annie became a schoolteacher and received an honors degree in a four-year training course. She met David Taylor during her studies, and they got married. However, their son died in infancy, and David died soon after. After being widowed, Annie spent her working years traveling and teaching music dancing. She ended up in Bay City, Michigan, where she opened her dance school. Later, she moved to Sault Ste. Marie in 1900 to teach music, then traveled to San Antonio, Texas, and Mexico City to find work.

Annie Edson Taylor’s journey over Niagara Falls

For two years, Annie Taylor was constantly thinking of ways to make money honestly and quickly when not occupied in teaching. She came up with different schemes, but none of them seemed to work. One day, while reading the New York paper about people going to the Pan-American exposition and from there to Niagara Falls, she had an idea of going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. No one had ever accomplished this feat, and she thought it would be an excellent way to make money. By 1900, Annie had fallen upon hard times, having been burned out of her home and losing money invested with a clergyman. She claimed to be only 42 years old at the time, suggesting that she could make money more easily if she were younger. Hoping to secure her later years financially, she decided to be the first person to ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

Annie Taylor used a custom-made barrel for her trip, constructed of oak and iron and padded with a mattress. Several delays occurred in the launching of the barrel, particularly because no one wanted to be part of potential suicide. Two days before Taylor’s own attempt, a domestic cat was sent over the Horseshoe Falls in her barrel to test its strength to see if the barrel would break or not. Contrary to rumors at the time, the cat survived the plunge and posed with Taylor in photographs after being found with a bleeding head.

On October 24, 1901, her 63rd birthday, the barrel was put over the side of a rowboat, and Annie climbed in, along with her lucky heart-shaped pillow. After screwing down the lid, friends used a bicycle tire pump to compress the air in the barrel. The hole used for this was plugged with a cork, and Annie was set adrift near the American shore, south of Goat Island. The river currents carried the barrel over the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, which has since been the site for all successful daredevil stunting at Niagara Falls. Rescuers reached her barrel shortly after the plunge. Annie Taylor was discovered to be alive and relatively uninjured, except for a small gash on her head. The trip itself took less than twenty minutes, but it was some time before the barrel was actually opened.

Challenges and Successes

Annie Taylor faced significant challenges during her journey over Niagara Falls. Her first attempt was canceled due to brisk to high winds, which caused the boatmen she hired, Robinson and Truesdale, to ground the boat in a small inlet on Grass Island. After waiting for the wind to die down, the first attempt was aborted. However, Annie didn’t give up. The next day, she left from Port Day at approximately 2 pm in the afternoon, but not before spending the morning installing a harness on the inside of the barrel and fixing a few last-minute problems with the breathing apparatus. Police officer Eagan commanded from shore for them to stop as they pulled away with the barrel in tow and was ignored, as Annie was hell-bent on getting her barrel positioned in the Canadian current in the upper river.

Annie Taylor’s trip covered a mile ride through the Canadian rapids before she reached the brink of the precipice. Her barrel, constructed as staunch as a barrel could be made, was twirled and buffeted through those delirious waters but escaped without any serious contact with rocks. Once passing over the brink, it rode at an angle of about 45 degrees on the outer surface of the Horseshoe and descended gracefully to the white foaming waters, 158 feet below the brink. Due to her calculations, the anvil fastened to the bottom of the barrel kept its foot downward, and so it landed. Had it turned over and landed on its head, Annie’s head might have been crushed in, and her neck broken.

Annie Taylor suffered no broken bones from her voyage, but she complained about having very sore shoulders, neck, and a severe gash on her scalp. While in bed recovering from her ordeal, the doctor was afraid to allow Annie any visitors, as he felt that she possibly could be suffering from what was referred to as “Brain Fever.” While resting comfortably after the ordeal, Annie received a letter offering a proposal of marriage for somebody, and it was never revealed whom it was. She turned him down.

Later Years

Annie Taylor briefly earned money speaking about her experience but was never able to build much wealth. She wrote a memoir and returned to Niagara Falls to sell it. Her manager, Frank M. Russell, ran away with her barrel, and most of her savings were used towards private detectives hired to find it. It was eventually located in Chicago, only to permanently disappear some time later. She spent her final years posing for photographs with tourists at her souvenir stand, attempting to earn money from the New York Stock Exchange, briefly talking about taking a second plunge over the cataracts in 1906, attempting to write a novel, reconstructing her 1901 plunge on film, working as a clairvoyant, and providing magnetic therapeutic treatments to local residents.

Unfortunately, Annie Taylor died penniless and alone. She entered the Niagara County Infirmary in Lockport, New York, on February 23, claiming her age to be 57. She died on April 29, 1921, aged 82, and was interred next to her friend and fellow daredevil Carlisle Graham in the “Stunter’s Rest” section of Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls, New York. Since she died penniless, public donations were sought to pay the costs of her funeral, which was held on the 5th of May, 1921. She attributed her bad health and near blindness to her trip over the falls.


Annie Edson Taylor’s legacy lives on as a testament to her bravery and determination. Her journey over Niagara Falls was daring and dangerous, but it made her famous. Although she didn’t make much money from her adventure, her story has inspired many daredevils to attempt similar stunts over the years. Despite facing numerous challenges and setbacks, Annie Taylor never gave up on her dream of making it big. Her journey is a reminder that, with perseverance and determination, anything is possible.

Annie Edson Taylor’s daring journey also highlights the natural beauty of Niagara Falls and the danger it poses. Her story has become a significant part of Niagara Falls’ history, and her legacy continues to fascinate people to this day. Her bravery and determination have inspired many to take risks and challenge themselves, and her story is a testament to the human spirit’s resilience.

In Popular Culture

Annie Edson Taylor’s journey over Niagara Falls has been the subject of many books, films, and documentaries. Her story has been retold countless times, and her brave and daring spirit continues to inspire people to this day. In 1950, a film titled “The Great Niagara” was released, which depicted the story of Annie Taylor’s journey. Her story has also been featured in several documentaries, including “Niagara: Thunder of the Waters,” which aired on PBS in 1985.

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