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Now You Can Own a Piece of the Iconic Mackinac Bridge

Spanning five miles across the Straits of Mackinac to connect two Michigan’s two peninsulas, the Mackinac Bridge has stood as a mighty symbol of the Great Lakes State since it opened in 1957.

With daily traffic of more than 11,000 and yearly traffic of more than four million, the Mighty Mac has a rich history. And now, individuals can own a piece of that history for themselves.

One West Michigan company, BlueWater Icon is repurposing some of the Mackinac Bridge’s original steel into unique, affordable artwork.

Thanks to BlueWater Icon for partnering with Awesome Mitten to produce this article. For your convenience, this article contains direct affiliate links to best-selling products.

Mackinac Bridge
The Mackinac Bridge

The Origins of the Mackinac Bridge

Using lessons learned from the Tacoma Narrows bridge collapse in Washington State only several years prior, the Mackinac Bridge designers incorporated a unique system of open steel grates, allowing wind to pass through the bridge structure.

Once the design was finalized, funding was secured and in 1954 work began. The construction involved thousands of workers from across Michigan and the United States.

The opening of the bridge stimulated industry and tourism in the Upper Peninsula. This allowed the Straits to be crossed in minutes, replacing the hours-long wait and ferry ride.

More than 11,000 vehicles cross this iconic landmark every day. However, on Labor Day 30,000 – 40,000 Bridge lovers from all over the United States gather to walk across the Bridge in a famous annual tradition. This special day is the only day the Bridge is open to pedestrian traffic.

An Affinity for the Unique Turns Into a Business

The architects behind these one-of-a-kind pieces are brothers Mark and Zach Mueller, West Michigan residents who have always had an eye for collecting unique Michigan-related items.

In 2010, they each bought sections of the Mackinac Bridge steel road grating for their own personal projects. Friends and family showed interest in the sections, wanting small pieces for themselves. The wheels began turning on a business idea to make smaller Bridge pieces available in a wide variety of practical use and display pieces.

“We wanted to do something unique in our realm of interest” Mark said. “Something marine or Great Lakes oriented…things that are cool and desirable to own, but difficult to find and acquire.”

The business began in mid to late 2022, and they discussed dozens of names before landing on BlueWater Icon. To them, it works well because it ties into Michigan’s nickname, the “Great Lakes State”, and the word icon signifies importance. 

Mackinac Bridge, lighthouses, buoys, those big marine things everybody recognizes,” Mark said. “Icon is a strong word, and it has weight. It’s transformative and it means something really changed the game.”

Repurposed Bridge Steel Finds New Life

The Mackinac Bridge Authority was responsible for the bridge’s design and construction during the 1950s and is responsible for the maintenance of the Bridge today. When large pieces of the original steel road deck grating outlive their usefulness, they are replaced, and the old pieces are auctioned.

The auctions are competitive and expensive, with sections going for thousands of dollars. The brothers say buying pieces is actually the easy part. What happens after can prove tricky. Each section is approximately 40 feet long and weighs 4,000 pounds, so handling and logistics can be problematic for buyers.

Once we get these large sections, the trick is cutting out the best useable pieces for each individual product that we make,” Zach said.

Since the road grate steel has been exposed to the elements for decades, significant wear is evident in the steel. But after the pieces are cleaned, fabricated, and sealed, beautiful layers of paint and rust patina emerge.

The Creative Process

For Mark and Zach, ideas for projects and products usually begin around a bonfire, with a focus on creating beautiful and affordable pieces.

That’s the most fun part of the project,” Mark said. “Myself and my brother sitting around the fire pit talking about what can be made. We revisit the ideas and whittle them down to those we think have the most customer appeal.”

Bluewater Icon Mackinac Bridge Art
Mackinac Bridge Bookends by BlueWater Icon

Beautiful and Functional Pieces of Art

BlueWater Icon repurposes the Mackinac Bridge steel into display and functional pieces. Display pieces are designed for desks, tables, or to be hung on a wall. Also, pieces of the grating are turned into cross art of many designs.

Functional pieces include eye-catching wine racks, candleholders, key racks, and bookends.

All of our products are popular, but it’s the functional pieces that really pique customer interest. The candleholders for example are hugely popular and very well-liked,” Zach said of the company’s functional pieces.

Once a product idea is set in motion and suitable pieces of steel are identified, the process of making the item takes about a week. The steel is cut, cleaned, and sealed, before final assembly.

Bluewater Icon Mackinac Bridge Art
Mackinac Bridge Steel Dual Candle Holder by BlueWater Icon

Handcrafted and Cherished by Customers

In just over a year in business, the Muellers have committed themselves to preserving the Mackinac Bridge’s history by making beautiful pieces that are easy to own.

“I ordered a Mackinac Bridge candle holder for my husband, who was born 10 days after the bridge officially opened in 1957. We’ve done the Labor Day bridge walk and crossed by car multiple times, so it’s fun to think that we were in contact with the piece of bridge now on our coffee table. We received the piece promptly, and inside was a hand-written note from the owner of BlueWater Icon. A nostalgic memento with a nice touch!”

Customer review

Available Online and at Michigan Art Shows

The duo currently participates in craft shows throughout Michigan and maintains an Etsy site where customers can peruse a unique collection of items.

Craft shows allow the brothers to get immediate customer feedback. At the same time, the customers gain an understanding of the work and effort involved in turning a 40-foot section of decades-old steel into a unique piece of art.

The customers love this stuff, and they love putting their memories of the Bridge into something like a candle holder,” Mark said. “In our craft show booth, we have historical photos of the Bridge being built, and a large piece of the road deck grating. The reaction has been outstanding.”

Added Zach, “One of the most enjoyable things is how many dozens of people we talk to whose fathers, grandfathers, or other relatives worked on constructing the Bridge. They love the idea of having a tangible piece of history to commemorate that family legacy.”

Find BlueWater Icon’s Pieces at These Michigan Art Shows in 2024

  • Charlevoix: Art in the Castle on April 13 & 14
  • Petoskey: Art in the Barn on May 4 & 5
  • Tawas: Memorial Day Arts & Crafts on May 25 & 26
  • Traverse City: Father’s Day Arts & Crafts on June 15 & 16
  • Charlevoix: Charlevoix Summer Arts Show on June 29 & 30
  • Ludington: West Shore Arts Fair on July 6 & 7
  • Marquette: Art on the Rocks on July 27 & 28
  • Grand Haven: Coast Guard Festival on August 2 & 3
  • Ludington: Gold Coast Artisan Fair August 10 & 11
  • St. Ignace: Arts Dockside on August 31 & September 1
  • Petoskey: Art in the Barn, Autumn on September 21 & 22
Mackinac Bridge-Mackinaw City
Mackinac Bridge | photo via @greendrinks

How to Own a Piece of Mackinac Bridge History

The Mackinac Bridge is an iconic and beloved Michigan landmark that continues to amaze travelers of all ages nearly seven decades after its construction. A beautifully crafted piece from BlueWater Icon – from cross art and pendants to candleholders, bookmarks, and mounted pieces – allows customers to hold on to a piece of the Mighty Mac’s history.

Mark and Zach Mueller’s passion for Michigan and unique items shines through in their craftsmanship. Not only are the pieces historic, but they make the perfect gift for friends and loved ones — even those who are hard to shop for.

To learn more about BlueWater Icon’s products, visit: Etsy.com/shop/BlueWaterIcon