1923 : The First Car Ferry Ariel Transports Vehicles Across the Straits of Mackinac

August 2, 2022 all-day


The first car ferry to operate in the Straits of Mackinaw, the wooden Ariel, carried three cars between the state’s upper and lower peninsulas on her maiden ferry voyage. As the twentieth century dawned, American reliance on and enthusiasm for the automobile began to grow. Traveling by car had become so popular by the 1920s that many people in Michigan had become frustrated by the difficulty presented by the lack of transportation across the Straights of Mackinaw. The State Legislature therefore authorized the creation of a ferry service. The first car ferry was a wooden vessel named the Ariel. On August 2, 1923, she made her maiden voyage across the water carrying three cars, though she was capable of transporting up to twenty vehicles. Soon the service’s popularity grew and the Ariel transported 10,351 vehicles in the first year. The state judged this to be a success and soon purchased additional ferries and even an ice breaker to extend the operating season. The Mackinaw car and passenger ferries remained an important part of Michigan’s transportation system until the Mackinaw Bridge opened in 1957 and the small fleet was dispersed.

Sources :

Michigan Historical Calendar, courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University.

Margaret Quinn LeCount, “John Ivers Served as Captain of State’s First Car Ferry, Ariel”, St. Ignace News, June 15, 2006.

Michigan’s Floating Highways, Seeking Michigan, July 26, 2011.

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