For years, the Straits of Mackinac presented a difficult barrier to travel between the upper and lower peninsulas. When railroads introduced car ferries (boats that carried railroad cars) in the 1880s, it became easier to cross the straits. In 1923, the State Highway Department started a ferry service for passenger cars. However, as more people wanted to cross the straits, especially during deer-hunting season, the wait to board a ferry took hours.
People discussed building a bridge across the five-mile wide straits for years. One early plan called for a series of bridges linking the peninsulas via Mackinac and Bois Blanc islands. In the 1950s, Governor G. Mennen Williams established the Mackinac Bridge Authority. They decided to build a bridge across the Straits of Mackinac.
To deal with the area’s high winds and grinding ice, engineers proposed a suspension bridge. A suspension bridge is where the roadway hangs, or is suspended, from cables that are held in place by the bridge’s two towers.
Construction of the Mackinac Bridge began in March of 1954. Except for the winter months, work continued for more than three years.
When the Mackinac Bridge opened to traffic on November 1, 1957, it became the world’s longest suspension bridge. The Golden Gate bridge in California and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York both have longer suspension spans than the Mackinac Bridge, but the “Mighty Mac” is the longest overall. It measures 8,614 feet between the cable anchorages on either end. The total length of the bridge, including approaches, is about five miles.
The Mackinac Bridge made travel between the upper and lower peninsulas much easier. Today, it is one of Michigan’s best-known landmarks.