Mighty Mac
Justin Severs

To some people, the Mackinac Bridge is just another bridge, and they ask, "What could be so great about it?" I guess to appreciate it you'd have to know a little about it. When crossing over the bridge and being able to see for miles in every direction, travelers never stop to think that it exists due to the hard work of many individuals. Even before the bridge was built, there were many other plans to connect the two lands.

The first plan for linking Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas was a floating tunnel suggested in 1920 by Horatio Earle, Michigan's first state highway commissioner. Another proposal suggested building a series of causeways and bridges from Cheboygan to Bois Blanc Island to Round Island across the western tip of Mackinac Island and then to St. Ignace. However, these proposals all failed (Zacharias 1-6). After the Grand Hotel was opened on Mackinac Island in 1887, Cornelius Vanderbilt, the man who opened the hotel, stated "Now we have the largest well-equipped hotel of its kind in the world, now what we need is a bridge to connect the straits." Later, his prediction would become reality as a bridge was built and would be so massive it would become known as the "Mighty Mac."

For many years before the bridge was built, people and cars were transported across the waters of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan by ferries. In order for people to cross the straits, they had to wait anywhere from a few minutes to days in order to catch one of the few ferries transporting people, cars and cargo. During the peak season, deer season, only 9,000 cars could be handled each day, which caused traffic backups to as far as Cheboygan, sixteen miles away (Zacharias 6). Also, if you needed to cross the bridge on a bad-weather day, it was impossible, as the ferries were closed when the weather was too harsh.

The building of the greatest marine construction task in history began in May of 1953, where Dr. David B. Steinman was appointed as the designer and chief engineer (Smith Preface). In the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, Steinman told newsboys, "Someday I am going to build a bridge like the famous structure that towers above us" (qtd. in Zacharias 6). From there, Steinman and his crew would have to construct the plans for the bridge they were about to build. Amazingly, there were 4,000 engineering drawings and 85,00 blue prints created all for this one bridge ("Mackinac Bridge" 3). The construction of the bridge began in 1954 where the first task, which needed to be completed, would be constructing the underwater support for the two main towers. One year after starting to pour the foundation for the two main towers support, the piers had reached bedrock, which enabled the construction of the two main steel towers, July 2, 1955 (Zacharias 7).

After the two main towers were constructed, the next job was to "spin the cables." 12,580 wires in each cable were placed parallel, not twisted or braided. Working along two catwalks anywhere from 190 to 500 feet about the water, ironworkers compressed and clamped the 37 stands of 340 wires into cables more than two feet in diameter. One by one, counterbalancing each pier, stiffening truss restraints were raised and connected to suspenders off the huge cables and connectors ("Mighty Mackinac" 2). Once the 42,000 miles of wire in the main cables were in place, it was time for the workers to lay the roadway ("Mackinac Bridge" 1). Finally, ironworkers finished welding more than a million connections to attach the open grating for the bridge floor beams for the center lanes, and just a few days before the bridges opening, asphalt and lightweight cement was finished off on the outside lanes ("Mighty Mackinac" 2).

Thus far, in the 45-year existence of the Mackinac Bridge, there have been 19 recorded deaths ("Northern Michigan" 3). Of those deaths, only five occurred during the three year construction of the bridge. Two of the workers fell 552 feet while working atop the north tower; one worker fell 40 feet and struck his head on several beams killing him instantly; one worker died while attempting an underwater dive to inspect a pier when he surfaced to quickly; and the final worker died while walking along a beam four feet about the water when he fell in and drowned (Rubin "Bridging" 136-37).

Millions of people have crossed the Mackinac Bridge. In fact, on June 25, 1998, the 100 millionth crossing occurred ("Mackinac Bridge" 3). That means, on average, there are 6,740 cars that cross the Mighty Mac each day. Maintaining the bridge is a never-ending job. Painting the bridge takes seven years to complete, so by the time the painters finish, it is time to start again.

Since the bridge has been opened, one employee has lost his life. A painter working under the bridge fell and drowned despite attempts by co-workers to save him. Five other deaths came from fatal car accidents; there have been six possible suicides from the bridge, with five bodies being found; and in 1978, a small plane flew into the cables during a heavy fog. The accident destroyed the plane and killed all three people aboard ("Northern Michigan" 3).

The opening of the Mackinac Bridge November 1, 1957, has made life easier for people to get across the straits of Mackinac (Mighty Mac Preface). Instead of waiting anywhere from minutes to days for a ferry, and then taking 40 minutes to cross the Great Lakes, people now only need about 10 minutes to cross the 26,372 foot (five miles) bridge ("Mackinac Bridge" 1). The bridge stands as a monument to the hard work and dedication put forth by the men who constructed the bridge.

Works Cited

  • Mackinac Bridge. Mackinac Bridge Authority. 2000. 7 Nov. 2000 <http://www.mackinacbridge.org/facts.html>.
  • "The Mighty Mackinac Bridge." The Ironworker. July 1983. 20 Nov. 2002
  • "Northern Michigan's Pride and Joy." Mar. 1999. 19 Nov. 2002.
    < http://members.tripod.com/–Seahag_2/file2/bigmac-2.html>.
  • Rubin, Lawrence A. Bridging the Straits. Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1985.
  • - - -. Mighty Mac. Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1975.
  • Zacharias, Pat. "The Breathtaking Mackinac Bridge." The Detroit News. 20 Nov. 2002. <http://www.detnews.corn/history/mac/mac.html>.
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