Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Ambassador Bridge

The Ambassador Bridge is an international suspension bridge that connects the cities of Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario. Detroit was a major metropolitan center by the early 20th Century, but travelers and goods could only cross the border via boat. A train tunnel built between the United States and Canada under the Detroit River made transport between the two countries easier but did not completely alleviate problems.

Several bridge proposals failed due to claims that it would be a navigation hazard, be too expensive, or that there would be restrictions on its use. In the mid-1920s, John W. Austin approached Detroit financier Joseph A. Bower with a feasible bridge plan. Bower came up with the necessary funding of $23.5 million, yet the plan was temporarily thwarted by Detroit Mayor John Smith, who opposed a privately-owned bridge. Detroiters voted overwhelmingly in favor of the bridge construction in a referendum on June 28, 1927.

The McClintic-Marshall Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – that would later build the Golden Gate Bridge – was chosen for the project. Construction began in May of 1927 and was completed in 1929, months ahead of schedule. Composed of Art Deco and Gothic styling, the bridge’s total length is 7,490 feet. The structure is built mainly of steel (21,000 tons) and has a roadway that rises as high as 152 feet above the Detroit River. At the time of its construction, the Ambassador Bridge was the largest suspension bridge in the world, only to be surpassed two years later by the George Washington Bridge, spanning the Hudson River.

The Bower family maintained control of the Ambassador Bridge until 1979, when the Central Cartage Company of Detroit, owned by Detroit–native Manuel "Matty" Moroun, purchased it. The Moroun family has upheld plans to construct a new bridge beside the aging Ambassador Bridge, which has been stalled for years by both Canadian and American governments. A new, publicly owned bridge, the Gordie Howe International Bridge will be built a few miles south of the Ambassador Bridge.

The Ambassador Bridge remains the largest international suspension bridge in the world. On average, more than 10,000 vehicles traverse the bridge every weekday. It is one of North America’s busiest international border crossings in terms of both traffic and trade volume. Approximately one quarter of all trade between the U.S. and Canada passes through this border crossing.



Postcard, Ambassador Bridge, 1929     Ambassador Bridge, c. 1972

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