MotorCities National Heritage Area

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images from various web sources
Published 12/12/2018


Crossing Bridges image from Mackinac Bridge Construction Gallery 2The Mackinac Bridge under construction (Mackinac Bridge Construction Gallery) 

One of the most beautiful bridges in the world with a great Michigan history is the Mackinac Bridge. The bridge was designed by David B. Steinman (1887-1961), who was once called the world's' foremost bridge designer and engineer. Throughout his career, he and his associates designed more than 400 bridges on five continents.


The Mackinac Bridge, his crowning achievement, was completed in 1957 and has taken its place in our history books. Historians have praised the bridge’s beautiful design, as well as its engineering utility and durability.  The bridge took over 48 months to be constructed by over 3,500 skilled workers. The project cost $99. million and became was known as the “Big Mac” or “Mighty Mac.” The length of the bridge reaches 8,614 feet, making it the fourth longest suspension bridge in the world.



Caisson afloat August 31 1954 Mackinac Bridge Authority 1A caisson afloat during Mackinac Bridge construction, August 31 1954 (Mackinac Bridge Authority)  

I have always admired the Mackinac Bridge and feel it is one of our state’s great historical sites. The bridge connects the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan, as well as the great communities of Mackinaw City and St. Ignace.

When you look at the bridge and its history, construction was delayed until early 1952 because of the Korean War. In 1953, the Michigan legislature passed an act that provided for the operating and maintenance costs for the structure to be paid out of gasoline and license plate taxes. The American Bridge Division of the United States Steel Corporation was awarded a $44,532,900 contract to build a great looking bridge people could admire and enjoy.



Opening Day Nov 1 1957 l to r MI Highway Commissioner John Mackie bridge designer David Steinman Gov G Mennen Williams former Governor Murray Van Wagoner other MI dignitaries Absolute Michigan 3Opening Day: November 1 1957. Left to right: Michigan Highway Commissioner John Mackie, bridge designer David Steinman, Governor G. Mennen Williams, former Governor Murray Van Wagoner and other state dignitaries (Absolute Michigan)


The bridge was opened for motoring traffic on November 1, 1957. An official dedication did not take place until late June of the following year. The inaugural cost of the toll was $3.25 per vehicle to cross.

The official opening day ceremonies were celebrated with the media and many distinguished guests. Many suggested that the completion of the Mackinac Bridge was Michigan's biggest historical event in 100 years.

During the ceremony, then-Governor G. Mennen Williams predicted that the bridge would add $100 million annually to the state’s tourism industry. “Michigan at last is to be one state geographically, economically and culturally, as well as politically. Where nature divided us, we have bound ourselves together with this web of steel. This mighty bridge, the world's greatest, is a symbol of our strength,” Mennen added.



1958 Oldsmobile convertibles crossing during Opening Day on the Mackinac Bridge General Motors Hemmings 41958 Oldsmobile convertibles crossing during Opening Day on the Mackinac Bridge (General Motors/Hemmings) 

Oldsmobile also provided 113 brand new 1958 models to celebrate the opening of the Mackinac Bridge, with 83 white Olds convertibles carrying beauty queens from each county. Since 1957, the bridge has served its purpose to move traffic and people across our beautiful Michigan waters between the two peninsulas.

Mackinac Bridge from the air Wikipedia 5Mackinac Bridge from the air (Wikipedia)


In conclusion, the first vehicle to cross the Mackinac Bridge was a 1951 Chevrolet Styleline Deluxe owned by Albert Carter. Today, the bridge has become a tourist destination for bridge enthusiasts and photographers from all over the world and will always be a part of Michigan's great history.


Mackinac Bridge deck Daily Detroit 6Mackinac Bridge deck (Daily Detroit) 


Michigan Department of Transportation, Mackinac Bridge Authority.


Michigan Department of Transportation.


Absolute Michigan, All Michigan All The Time. “Dig Michigan History: The Mackinac Bridge Opens.”


Jones Earley, Helen and Walkinshaw, James R. “Setting The Pace: Oldsmobile's First 100 Years.” Oldsmobile Public Relations Department, 1996.