Opening of Mackinac Bridge 

U.S. #1109 was issued on the day of the bridge’s dedication ceremony.
U.S. #1109 was issued on the day of the bridge’s dedication ceremony.

On November 1, 1957, the Mackinac Bridge opened. It was the largest suspension bridge in the world at the time.

In the 17th century, the Algonquin people lived near the Straits of Mackinac in an area they called Michilimackinac. Scholars believe this translates to “the Great Turtle,” likely a reference to the shape of Mackinac Island. The Algonquin traded with other tribes on the Straits of Mackinac and the area soon became an important intertribal meeting spot.

As Europeans began to enter they area, they took advantage of the mining and timber resources, eventually making the straits into a major transportation hub. By 1881, three railroads traveled through the area. They joined together to form the Mackinac Transportation Company, a railroad car ferry traveling across the straits, connecting the two peninsulas. In the coming decades highways were built along the eastern shores of the Lower Peninsula, bringing an influx of automobile traffic.

U.S. #2041 was issued for the 100th anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge.
U.S. #2041 was issued for the 100th anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge.

With the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883, some locals wondered if such a bridge could be built in Michigan to speed up travel across the straits. Soon the Michigan legislature began to discuss the possibility of a bridge, spurred in part by the fact that the straits had become a popular tourist destination.

Eventually the state of Michigan established its own automobile ferry between Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. Running nine ferry boats at a time, this service carried up to 9,000 cars every day. Even still, traffic could be backed up for up to 16 miles. The other option was to drive all the way around, which could take much longer.

U.S. #1109 FDC – 1958 Mackinac Bridge First Day Cover.
U.S. #1109 FDC – 1958 Mackinac Bridge First Day Cover.

Though there were repeated calls for a bridge, little formal action was taken for decades. By the late 1920s, the ferry service was so popular and expensive, Michigan’s governor requested a study on the possibility of a bridge. The idea was deemed possible and estimated to cost about $30 million.

In the 1930 the state formed the Mackinac Straits Bridge Authority to figure out how to build and fund the bridge. On several occasions, they applied for federal funding through President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. While the president supported the project, Congress never rewarded the funds.   In spite of this, planning continued, even when World War II further delayed funding.

Eventually the Authority was abolished a new one, the Mackinac Bridge Authority, created in 1950. In 1951, a report from project engineers convinced the state legislature to sell $85 million in bonds to fund the bridge’s construction. This sale was delayed due to a poor market, but eventually went through.

U.S. #4438 – 2010 Mackinac Bridge Express mail stamp.
U.S. #4438 – 2010 Mackinac Bridge Express mail stamp.

Construction on the bridge began on May 7, 1954. It took three and a half years because work could only be done during the summer. The total cost was $100 million, part of which would be paid over the next 20 years through collected tolls.

The bridge was completed on time and opened as scheduled on November 1, 1957. Ferry service ended that same day. Because of the cold fall weather, the bridge’s dedication ceremony was delayed until June 25 the following year.

The completed bridge is considered an engineering marvel, running five miles across the Straits connecting Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas. “Mighty Mac” towers 200 feet above the windswept waters of Lakes Huron and Michigan. Trips that could take hours waiting in line for the ferry or going the long way around, took just 10 minutes.

U.S. #4438 FDC – 2010 Mackinac Bridge First Day Cover.
U.S. #4438 FDC – 2010 Mackinac Bridge First Day Cover.

Bridge designers took special precautions for Michigan’s severe winter weather. Grated openings between the center lanes improve airflow and prevent the road deck from being pushed up by strong winds. During high winds, the road deck can also move up to 35 feet from side to side to keep the bridge from buckling.

Some drivers are uncomfortable crossing the Mighty Mac. Bridge personnel call these commuters “timmies,” because they are too timid to drive across. The bridge authority provides them with a chauffeur at no extra fee. On September 6, 2009, the 150 millionth vehicle crossed the Mackinac Bridge.

Click here to see photos from the construction of the Mackinac Bridge.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in history.

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  1. Your dialogue along with the photos of the construction and the accompanying captions make an incredible goodnight story for me. I stayed up an extra half an hour to find out what’s new, or rather what is old on this day. You never disappoint. Goodnight.

  2. This brought back memories, for in 1967, my wife and I with 2 kids and a dog drove from Ohio, to Oregon to visit grandparents and returned via Canada, with our new Oldsmobile F-85 station wagon pulling a Coleman camping trailer. After traveling along the northern shore of Lake Superior, we crossed over the Mackinac Bridge to drive down the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Ohio. The bridge was still considered new at the time, and it was an exciting adventure to cross the longest bridge in the world. A major surprise to us in reaching Michigan was to see large intrusive billboards again along side the highway, for at least in the 1960s there were no billboards along the Trans Canada Highway.

  3. When I was stationed near SF, I traveled across the Golden Gate Bridge. They would post high wind warnings from time to time. I was actually blown across a lane in a small car. They must have learned a lot from the Narrows Bridge, in Tacoma, which buckled in the 30’s due to high winds. Can’t imagine driving on a bridge that moves up to 35 feet. No wonder they have “timmies”. Great story.

  4. Interesting information, as always. Nice to see that the tolls which started in 1957 would, after 20 years, have fully paid off the bonds. So I guess the tolls finished in 1977 – some 40 years ago!!!

    1. Politians always promise to end the tolls when the bridge or toll road is paid for. But like any political promise they never come true

      1. I remember a bridge in West Virginia that had a toll but was removed when it was paid off. It does happen sometimes but more often than not they will keep the toll to pay for maintenance or whatever excuse.

  5. Mystic Stamp, Thank you for this look back in history. I well remember crossing the “Mighty Mac,” for the first time with my parents. It is still a thrill every time I cross it now. A beautiful area of the country and of the world. I feel fortunate to live just 115 miles away, in my own beautiful area of Norther Lower Michigan. Thanks for the photographs!

  6. Remember a story of my aunt and uncle driving the bridge. It was ‘just a bridge’ – until they were a ways on to it. Then they became ‘timmies’ out on the bridge. Yes, on their way back from their trip, they gave in as timmies ‘before’ driving on to the bridge.

  7. For the last 2 years we’ve taken the bridge on the way to see our son in Indiana. It is a beautiful drive through the both the upper and lower peninsulas and though it is longer it sure beats going through the traffic in Milwaukee and Chicago. This year we got to see the annual tractor crossing on the way down and experienced our first inclement weather on the way back.
    As far as the “timmies” go, I could easily be one but if you keep your eyes focused ahead it is easy to cross and goes pretty quickly, although my wife telling me to look at all the white caps below when we were on the highest part during the inclement weather wasn’t nearly as funny to me as it was to her.

  8. I crossed the Mac on November 12 1957 & have crossed every year at least once a year since that date. Also crossed by Ferry since I was a baby. Remember one year we waited 13 hours to board the Ferry. I am now 80 years old & will cross again this year. Don’t remember what the toll was on opening would like to know.

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