The first pier in Bournemouth consisted of a short wooden jetty that was completed in 1856. This was replaced by a much longer wooden pier, designed by George Rennie, which opened on 17th September 1861 amid much pomp and ceremony, including a 21 gun salute. Costing the Bournemouth Board of Commissioners some £3,418 to construct, it was decided to charge an annual admission fee to Bournemouth Pier, based on residents rateable values, in an effort to recover the financial outlay.
Due to attack by Teredo Worm the wooden piles were removed in favour of cast iron replacements in 1866, but even with this additional benefit the life of the pier head was short lived. Just a year later it was rendered unusable when the 'T' shaped landing stage was swept away in a gale.
The remaining neck was repaired, and the pier continued in use for a further ten years until November 1876 when another severe storm caused further collapse rendering Bournemouth Pier too short for steamboat traffic. The Rennie pier was subsequently demolished, and replaced in 1877 by a temporary structure. During the next three years a new pier, designed by Eugenius Birch, was completed.
At a cost of £21,600 the new Bournemouth Pier was opened by the Lord Mayor of London on 11th August 1880. Consisting of an open promenade, it stretched to a length of 838ft (255.4m) and spanned some 35ft (10.6m) across the neck of the pier, extending to 110ft (33.3m) at the head. With the addition of a bandstand in 1885, military band concerts took place three times a day in summer and twice daily throughout the winter. Covered shelters were also provided at this time. Two extensions, in 1894 and 1909 respectively, took the pier's overall length to more than 1000ft (304.8m).
In common with virtually all other piers in the south and east of the country, Bournemouth Pier was sectioned by an army demolition team in the spring of 1940 as a precaution against German invasion during the Second World War. The pier was repaired and re-opened in August 1946. Refurbishment of the pier head was carried out in 1950, and ten years' later a rebuild of the substructure was completed in concrete to take the weight of a new pier theatre. A structural survey of 1976 found major areas of corrosion, and in 1979 a £1.7m restoration program was initiated. Having demolished the old shoreward end buildings, replacing them with a new two storey octagonal leisure complex, and reconstructed the pier neck in concrete giving it the 'bridge' like appearance that it retains today, the work was completed in two years.
In 1868 the first recorded pleasure excursion from Bournemouth Pier was by the steamer 'Fawn'. She was chartered for a trip to Spithead, where a review of the fleet was being held in honour of the Shah of Persia. Since 1871 there has been a long association between Bournemouth Pier and pleasure steamers. To this day the tradition continues with regular seasonal visits by the paddle steamer 'Waverley', and her motorised companion the 'Balmoral'. Many other local boats offering day trips and excursions along the lovely Dorset coast also operate from Bournemouth Pier.