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The first Memorial Bridge was constructed between 1920 and 1923 and demolished in 2012. It was the second bridge built across the deep and fast tidal waters of Portsmouth Harbor. The 1923 bridge was the first major vertical lift bridge constructed in the eastern United States. When it was completed it had the longest lift span and highest lift towers in the nation. It was the prototype for many later and longer vertical lift bridges throughout the country and inspired the 2013 lift bridge. Funded in equal parts by the federal government, Maine, and New Hampshire, the construction of the 1923 bridge was the culmination of a long campaign to replace a dilapidated wood 1822 toll bridge, located upstream. The vertical lift design was selected as the least expensive type of moveable bridge design that could accommodate the large ships that needed to pass upstream of the bridge. The new free bridge provided direct access to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (in Kittery, Maine) for New Hampshire workers. It was dedicated on August 17, 1923, as a memorial to those who served in World War I.

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