About the Photo: Courtesy Michigan Department of Transportation. November 1, 1957 (left to right) State Highway Commissioner John Mackie, bridge designer David Steinman, Governor G. Mennen Williams, Prentiss Brown, former governor Murray Van Wagoner, Sault Ste. Marie businessman George Osborn, William Cochran and Lawrence Rubin.
“Mighty Bridge Unifies Michigan” read the headline of the Kalamazoo Gazette on November 1, 1957. Across the state, newspapers agreed that the opening of the Mackinac Bridge was cause for great celebration.
With the bridge ready for traffic, but fearing inclement autumn weather at the Straits, officials decided to have an official “opening” on November 1, 1957, but an official “dedication” in late June of the following year.
Amazingly, the weather on the first day of November (preceded by two days of rain and fog) was sunny and pleasant. However, the weather in late June was so cold and wet (with six-foot waves on the Straits) that some of the events were shortened or canceled altogether. According to one observer, it “was a bleak, gray day, more like March than June, and the only parader who looked happy was a snow queen from Cadillac, who rode on an ice throne float, throwing snowballs made of popcorn.”
The media hailed the completion of the Mackinac Bridge as “Michigan’s biggest historical event in 100 years” (which begs the question, “What about the automobile?”). One newspaper ran a front-page story with the headline “Here’s What Bridge Users Can Expect.” The thirteen-item list concluded, “There will be no free fares, except bridge authority vehicles or for bridge employees”
On November 1, after paying the $3.25 toll (taken symbolically by former U.S. Senator Prentiss Brown, who chaired the Mackinac Bridge Authority), Governor G. Mennen Williams crossed the bridge (driven in a car by Mrs. Williams because the governor had forgotten his driver’s license). Then, according to United Press International correspondent Thomas Farrell, cars lined up for one mile on both sides of the Straits “swarmed” on to a bridge whose size “staggers the imagination.”
In his opening day remarks, Governor Williams predicted that the bridge would add $100 million annually to the state’s tourist trade. He continued, “Michigan at last is to be one state, geographically, economically and culturally, as well as politically.”
At the June dedication, Williams thanked those responsible for building the bridge, then dedicated it to an assortment of different groups, but especially “the million of children from all over America who will come to ride across it and who will see in it the spirit of man’s conquest over the obstacles of nature.” Williams returned to his earlier theme about unification, adding, “Where nature divided us we have bound ourselves together with this great web of steel. This mighty bridge, the world’s greatest, is a symbol of our strength.”
Kristin Phillips, who puts these together for us every week, writes: This week’s story is early because tomorrow I’m going up to St. Ignace for the Mackinac Bridge 50th Anniversary Celebration!
For more on the history of the Mackinac Bridge, look for Michigan History magazine’s “50 Years of the Mighty Mac” issue, available now. Visit www.michiganhistorymagazine.com or call toll free, (800) 366-3703.