Ambassador Bridge records (1927-1930)
Summary Information
Title: Ambassador Bridge records
Creator: Ambassador Bridge (Detroit, Mich., and Windsor, Ont.)
Inclusive dates: 1927-1930
Extent: .25 linear ft and 2 oversize boxes
Abstract:
The Ambassador Bridge spans the Detroit River from Detroit, Michigan to Windsor, Ontario (Canada). It was constructed from 1927-1929. The collection is from the papers of Mr. Howard A. Schirmer, an engineer who worked on the construction of the Ambassador Bridge. It contains materials related to designing and executing the construction of the Ambassador Bridge, the majority being correspondence and reports, and a selection of books and newspapers published just after the construction of the bridge.
Call number: THC - Ambassador Bridge
Language: The material is in English
Repository: University of Michigan Library (Special Collections Research Center)

Access and Use
Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.

Copyright:

Copyright has not been transferred to the Regents of the University of Michigan. Permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s).

Preferred Citation:

Ambassador Bridge records, University of Michigan Library (Special Collections Research Center)

Collection History
Acquisition Information:

Gift of Mr. Howard A. Schirmer, Jr. in 1995.

Processing Information:

Blueprints are located in Box 1 and 2.


Biography

The Ambassador Bridge spans the Detroit River from Detroit, Michigan to Windsor, Ontario. It was constructed from 1927-1929.

Joseph A. Bower, a New York financier originally from Detroit, made the construction of the bridge possible. When the plan for a bridge across the Detroit River by Charles Evan Fowler failed, one of his supporters, John W. Austin, approached Bower with the project. Austin was an officer of Detroit Graphite Company and was hoping to secure the contract for painting the bridge. He was able to meet with Bower with the help of one of the principles of McClintic-Marshall company, a noted Pittsburg engineering firm. Bower agreed to take on the project in late 1924. He assembled the funding and obtained approval from the necessary agencies and governing bodies for the construction of the bridge, including acts from U.S. Congress and Canada’s Parliament and public support in the two communities. Austin was named treasurer and McClintic-Marshall company was hired to design and build the bridge.

The contract with McClintic-Marshall was signed July 20, 1927 and made operative in August 1927, once the funding was secure. The contract stipulated that construction was to be completed in 3 years. If construction was completed earlier, the firm would receive a bonus of half the revenues of the bridge until the original construction deadline. If it was not completed, the firm would pay the interest on the securities until the bridge was complete.

The bridge was originally constructed with heat-treated wire cables, a new technology at the time. However, wires began breaking on another bridge recently constructed with this type of cable. McClintic-Marshall ceased construction of the bridge in March 1929 to study the problem and absorbed the cost of half a million dollars to replace the cables with the traditional cold drawn steel wires.

The bridge was completed November 11, 1929 and open for traffic 4 days later. The total cost of the project was $23.5 million. During its construction, the bridge was called the Detroit River Bridge. Bower felt that the name was too impersonal but did not want the bridge named after him, so he named it the Ambassador Bridge. The bridge was celebrated as a symbol of the peaceful relationship between the United States and Canada.

At the time, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, with a main span of 1,850 feet. The bridge was 152 feet above the water at its apex and the road was 47 feet wide with 5 lanes of traffic and a total of 7,490 feet long. The Ambassador Bridge was surpassed in length by the George Washington Bridge in New York in 1931.

For additional historical information, see the website of the Ambassador Bridge, www.ambassadorbridge.com, operated by The Detroit International Bridge Company and The Canadian Transit Company.

The collection is from the papers of Mr. Howard A. Schirmer, an engineer who worked on the construction of the Ambassador Bridge. Mr. Schirmer was a native of Oakland, CA. He received his B.S. in civil engineering from the University of California, Berkley, in 1923. In addition to his work on the Ambassador Bridge, he was involved with the construction of many prominent bridges and skyscrapers, including the Empire State Building, the George Washington Bridge in New York and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. He was married to Amy F. Schirmer and had a son, Howard A. Schirmer, Jr. Mr. Schirmer died September 7, 1994, at the age of 93.


Collection Scope and Content Note

The papers are divided into two series: Construction and Publications.

Construction contains materials related to designing and executing the construction of the Ambassador Bridge, the majority being correspondence and reports.

The correspondence dates from July 1928 to July 1929. The main correspondents are Robert MacMinn, Engineer of Construction; R.G. Cone, Resident Engineer; Howard Schirmer and other McClintic-Marshall employees. The correspondence discusses bids for contracts and various aspects of the construction, mostly focused on the terminals. Topics include the telephone system, installing clocks, furniture, cash registers and automatic car counters. There are a few blueprints, drawings, and lists of expenditures intermixed with the correspondence.

The reports are specification reports detailing how aspects of the construction are to be conducted. The reports indicate the types of materials and the processes to be used. The reports include specifications for masonry, the metal superstructure, pavements, and furniture, equipment and steel lockers for the U.S. terminal. There is also a report entitled Contract Plans and General Specifications detailing the responsibilities of the McClintic-Marshall company for the design and construction of the Ambassador Bridge.

Publications contains books and newspapers published just after the construction of the Ambassador Bridge. The books describe the history and process of constructing the bridge with varying degrees of technical detail. Detroit River Bridge was written for engineers and includes 69 plates of design drawings for the bridge. Detroit-Windsor Bridge also provides a technical description of the construction of the bridge and Detroit International Bridge provides a more general history of the construction. The newspapers were published when the Ambassador Bridge was dedicated. There is an article from the Detroit News and a section on the bridge from the Detroit Free Press.

Subject Terms
    Subjects:
    • Detroit (Mich.) -- Buildings, structures, etc. -- 20th century.
    • Bower, Joseph A.
    • Schirmer, Howard A.
    • MacMinn, Robert.
    • Ambassador Bridge (Detroit, Mich., and Windsor, Ont.) -- Design and construction.
    • Bridges -- Detroit River (Mich. and Ont.)
    • Bridges -- Design and construction -- Michigan -- Detroit.
    • Suspension bridges -- Design and construction -- Michigan -- Detroit.
    Contributors:
    • McClintic-Marshall Company.
    Genre Terms:
    • Blueprints.
    • Clippings.
    • Correspondence.
    • Technical drawings.
    • Technical reports.
    Contents List
       Container / Location    Title
     
    Construction [series]:

    Construction contains materials related to designing and executing the construction of the Ambassador Bridge, the majority being correspondence and reports.

    Box   1  
    Blueprint, "Detail of Bottom -- 12.75 Plates (5/16"),"  1928 [OVERSIZED BOX 2]
    Box   1  
    Contract Plans and General Specifications,  1928
    Box   1  
    Correspondence,  July 1928-July 1929
    Box   1  
    Photograph, Completed Bridge,  undated
    Box   1  
    Specifications for Masonry, Metal Superstructure, and Pavements,  1928-1929
    Box   1  
    Specifications for the U.S. Terminal, Furniture and Equipment, and Steel Lockers,  1029
    Box   1  
    Subcontractor Lists for the Canadian and U.S. Terminals,  undated
     
    Publications [series]:

    Publications contains books and newspapers published just after the construction of the Ambassador Bridge.

    Box   1  
    Detroit International Bridge: The Ambassador Bridge . Detroit International Bridge Company: Detroit, MI,  undated
    Box   1  
    Detroit River Bridge (Ambassador Bridge): An Engineering Record of the Design and Construction of the International Highway Bridge between Detroit, Mich. And Sandwich, Ont. No. 49 of  1000 printed. McClintic-Marshall Company: Pittsburg, PA, 1930. [OVERSIZED BOX 2]
    Box   1  
    The Detroit-Windsor Bridge over the Detroit River, Part 1 by Charles Evans Fowler. American Transit Company: Detroit, MI, 1927.
     
    Newspapers
    Box   1  
    Detroit News, "Ambassador Bridge Dedicated Today,"  November 11, 1929 [OVERSIZED BOX 3]
    Box   1  
    Detroit Free Press, Ambassador Bridge Section,  November 10, 1929 [OVERSIZED BOX 3]
    Box   2 [OVERSIZED]  
    Blueprint
    Box   2 [OVERSIZED]  
    Detroit River Bridge (Ambassador Bridge)
    Box   3 [OVERSIZED]  
    Detroit News
    Box   3 [OVERSIZED]  
    Detroit Free Press