Michigan’s famed five-mile Mackinac Bridge opened to automobile traffic on Friday, November 1, 1957 — 60 years ago! The list of facts and figures related to the “Mighty Mac” are nearly as long as the structure is itself. But, here are 17 things you may not know about this Pure Michigan icon!
- Construction began in May 1954 (with official ceremonies taking place in both St. Ignace and Mackinaw City) and in just over three years, this “Modern Marvel” was complete. The cost to design the project was $3,500,000 (Steinman Company). The cost to construct the bridge was $70, 268,500. Two primary contractors were hired to build the bridge: American Bridge for superstructure – $44,532,900; and Merritt-Chapman and Scott of New York for the foundations – $25,735,600.
- More than 11,350 men worked on various aspects of building this bridge – including 3,500 at the bridge site; 7,500 at quarries, shops and mills around the area; and 350 engineers.
- When the Mackinac Bridge was complete, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. It is now the fifth largest at 26,372 feet. The length of the suspension bridge (including anchorages) is 8,614 feet. The length from cable bent pier to cable bent pier is 7,400 feet. Length of main span (between towers) is 3,800 feet.
- The first private car to cross the bridge was a 1951 Chevrolet Styleline De Luxe station wagon driven by Al Carter of Chicago. That vehicle is on permanent display inside the Grand Rapids Public Museum.
- The Mackinac Bridge Walk was started and took place in late June 1958 during the Bridge’s dedication ceremony, led by Governor G. Mennen Williams. That first year only 68 people walked across the bridge. The event was changed to Labor Day in 1959, and for the first few years, participants in the walk alternated north and south in consecutive years. The St. Ignace to Mackinaw City (north-to-south) route became a constant in 1964. The record number of walkers is estimated at 85,000 in 1992 when President George H.W. Bush participated. Over the past 60 years, it is estimated the collective number of walkers is over 2 million.
- The Mackinac Bridge Authority has a “Drivers Assistance Program” available 24/7 for all vehicle types. The program provides drivers for motorists who are uncomfortable with driving across the Mackinac Bridge. They also provide services for pedestrians, bicyclists and snowmobilers from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., 7 days a week, for a small fee.
- There are elevators in the towers to take workers to the top (and bottom) for maintenance purposes. There are also several opportunities each year to “win” this once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Mackinac Bridge Authority holds a drawing once per year each August, and randomly chooses 25 non-profit organizations to receive a tower tour certificate to be raffled or auctioned for charitable purposes. The certificates can be used May 1st through October 15th of the following year, and are good for two people.
- There are 4 cameras set up around the bridge, so you can watch weather and traffic no matter where you are in the world. Links are set up on the Mackinac Bridge Authority website.
- A total 609,916 vehicles crossed the Mackinac Bridge during July, 2017 (the highest number for a single month in the past 3.5 years). Over 4 million vehicles crossed the Mackinac Bridge throughout 2016. The 100 millionth crossing was recorded nearly 20 years ago on July 25, 1998.
- You can now pay your bridge fare with a credit card. The toll is $2 per axle or $4 per car for passenger vehicles (car; van; motorcycle; station wagon; SUV; pick-up truck and school bus); all others are $5 per axle (tractor trailers; buses; motorhomes; step or cub vans).
- To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Mighty Mac, local historian and author Mike Fornes published “Mackinac Bridge—A 50 Year Chronicle 1957-2007” which was named a 2008 Michigan Notable Book Winner from the Library of Michigan.
- In 2007, television star Mike Rowe brought is Dirty Jobs crew to film a segment about the Mighty Mac. They went down below the water’s surface and high above the Straits to capture the true essence of this amazing bridge. You can still watch the episode online: http://www.mackinacbridge.org/events/dirty-jobs-2007/.
- When the Mackinac Bridge was completed in 1957, the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse (built in 1889) was decommissioned as the bridge provided nautical navigation with its series of lights spanning across the Straits.
- Several organized vehicle parades are held on the Mackinac Bridge each year, including tractors, Corvette’s, Mini Coopers, Jeeps, semi-trucks and even snowmobiles.
- Each winter, ice forms on the cables and towers of the Mackinac Bridge, usually from freezing rain. When winds increase or temperatures rise, that ice can dislodge suddenly, sending sheets or spears of ice cascading down to the bridge deck below. Because of these dangers, the Mackinac Bridge Authority occasionally closes the bridge temporarily. When the bridge is closed due to falling ice, it’s a guessing game as to when it can be reopened. During the longest falling ice closure – 15 hours and 45 minutes on April 11 and 12, 2017 – temperatures hovered around freezing and new ice was forming on the bridge as soon as other ice broke free. The shortest closure was 37 minutes on Nov. 29, 2001. The bridge has closed 16 times for falling ice since 1995.
- The Mackinaw Bridge Museum, located above Mama Mia’s Restaurant in downtown Mackinaw City, was established by J. C. Stilwell, who was one of the Ironworkers who built the bridge. It is open seasonally, spring through fall, and is free to visit.
- For additional information about the history of the Mackinac Bridge (including some interesting facts and figures about its size and construction), check out the official website of the Mackinac Bridge Authority. You can purchase 60th Anniversary commemorative posters from the Mackinac Bridge Authority on the website.
Have you ever crossed the Mackinac Bridge? If not, we suggest you add it to your travel bucket list!
For lodging reservations throughout the remainder of the fall and into the winter season, visit MackinawCity.com/stay/.