'The New Bridge'

Arkansas Gov. Dale Bumpers (from Left); Robert F. Smith, Tennessee Department of Transportation commissioner; Tennessee Gov. Winfield Dunn; Miss Tennessee Ann Galloway and Diane Barbour, Miss Chamber of Commerce cut the ribbon in West Memphis to open the Interstate 40 Bridge across the Mississippi River in Memphis on Aug. 17, 1973. (The Commercial Appeal)

August 18, 1973

It’s the price of fame in the Bluff City: $1,600.

The Schaeffer family paid that tidy sum, to charity, for the right to be the first to drive across the new $57 million Hernando DeSoto Bridge.

Mrs. Joan Schaeffer told a reporter,

It was the most exciting thing we’ve ever done. The view of the Memphis skyline is just beautiful and it’s worth every bit of $1,600.

The "new bridge" as it’s called today, with its sweeping "M" shape, was an engineering marvel: six years to construct, 4 miles long including approaches, 21,000 tons of steel, including 157,000 bolts.

The bridge was lighted in 1986, creating a new symbol for Memphis, illuminated with 200 sodium vapor bulbs. With typical Memphis flourish, the bridge was "plugged in" as fireworks erupted over the riverfront.

Arkansas Gov. Dale Bumpers (from Left); Robert F. Smith, Tennessee Department of Transportation commissioner; Tennessee Gov. Winfield Dunn; Miss Tennessee Ann Galloway and Diane Barbour, Miss Chamber of Commerce cut the ribbon in West Memphis to open the Interstate 40 Bridge across the Mississippi River in Memphis on Aug. 17, 1973. (The Commercial Appeal)

Today

The Hernando De Soto Bridge is vital to traffic and freight crossing the United States and carries more than 50,000 vehicles across the Mississippi River a day. A seismic retrofitting project, allowing the bridge to withstand a 7.7 magnitude earthquake, started in the early 2000's and has continued thru today. Several phases of the project have been completed in the effort to protect and maintain this "lifeline" of the country.

The sweeping "M" design has become a symbol of Memphis and its likeness is used in everything from signs to souvenirs. And there's a chance, if you've ever been downtown, you have a piture of yourself with the "new bridge" in the background.

Landers Auto Group
Landers Auto Group