Since the first person laid eyes on Table Mountain, it has exerted its powerful and charismatic pull, enchanting and drawing any and all who fall under its spell.
Table Mountain’s magnetism has a way of drawing people in, compelling them to reach the summit. But getting to the top was not always the effortless trip it is today.
Before the Cableway was established, the only way up Cape Town’s iconic mountain was by foot – a climb undertaken only by adventurous souls.
One of these intrepid climbers was the famous Capetonian, Lady Anne Barnard. In 1790, upon hearing that no woman had made the climb, she mounted a small expedition, which included three “gentlemen”, several slaves and her personal maid. The group summitted via Platteklip Gorge and held a lavish picnic before descending.
By the late 1870s, several of Cape Town’s more prominent (and possibly less fit) citizens had suggested the introduction of a railway to the top. Plans to build a rack railway were proposed, but implementation was halted by the outbreak of the First Anglo-Boer War in 1880.
By 1912, driven by a desire to make access to the mountain top easier for citizens and visitors, the Cape Town City Council commissioned an engineer, HM Peter, to investigate the various options for a public transport system to the top.
Peter suggested that a funicular railway running from Oranjezicht through Platteklip Gorge would be the most viable solution. In a referendum on the matter, the vast majority of Cape Town’s residents voted in favour of the funicular – despite the staggering cost of £100 000 (an immense amount of money in those days).
However, the proposed plans were halted by war yet again – this time the First World War, which lasted from 1914 to 1918. As a British colony at the time, South Africa was embroiled in the conflict.
In 1926 a Norwegian engineer Trygve Stromsoe proposed the building of a cableway to the council.
The scheme caught the interest of a group of influential businessmen after Stromsoe approached Sir Alfred Hennessy and showed him a functioning scale model of his idea. Hennessy and fellow investors Sir David Graaff and Sir Ernest Oppenheimer formed the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company (TMACC) to finance construction, with Stromsoe taking the fourth seat on the board of directors.
A week after viewing the model, the company chose a site for the lower cable station and swiftly appointed a firm of local architects, Walgate & Elsworth, to design the upper and lower stations and a tearoom at the summit. The building of the Cableway was contracted to Germany’s Adolf Bleichert.
Construction got under way speedily. The work was dangerous and difficult, and builders relied on a temporary ropeway and an open box (“the soapbox”) to cart building materials and workers to the top of the mountain. Although this was a perilous method, no serious accidents occurred during construction. To this day, the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway has a proud history of being totally accident-free.