Michigan is the one most brimming with irony among the US states. On one hand, it stands as an industrial powerhouse, both today and in the past. But on the other hand, it also suffered from economic and other problems, both today and in the past. Learn more about this with these 70 Michigan facts.
- Michigan covers an estimated area of around 250,000 km².
- An estimated 10 million people live in the state today.
- It has an estimated population density of around 67 people for every km².
- At its lowest point on Lake Erie, Michigan has an elevation of around 174 meters above sea level.
- On average, the state has an elevation of around 270 meters above sea level.
- French settlers first arrived in what would become Michigan during the 17th century.
- The French built fortresses across Michigan during the 18th century to protect it against British attacks.
- Britain took over the colony in 1763 after the Seven Years War.
- Britain kept part of the colony even after the American War of Independence.
- The USA gained the rest of Michigan with the Jay Treaty of 1794.
- Questions over the Michigan-Canadian border took until 1847 to fully resolve.
- Michigan stayed loyal to the Union during the American Civil War.
- The state’s industry boomed at the start of the 20th century.
- Michigan’s economy began to decline from the 1950s onward.
- The state government began to diversify the state’s economy from the 1980s onward.
- The name Michigan comes from the Ojibwe word mishigami or large lake.
- Michigan counts as both the 10th most populated and 11th largest state in the USA.
- It keeps its capital at Lansing, but Detroit makes up its largest city.
- Most of Michigan belongs in the USA’s Eastern Time Zone, or GMT-5.
- The counties in the state’s Upper Peninsula, however, belong to the USA’s Central Time Zone, or GMT-6.
Michigan has various nicknames.
These include the Great Lakes State, which comes from the fact that Michigan has access to four out of five of the Great Lakes of North America. There’s also the Wolverine State, which refers to a bustling trade in wolverine fur in Michigan during the 18th century. Ironically, in modern Michigan, wolverines rarely ever get seen in the wild, with the last sighting of a live wolverine taking place in 2004.
Michigan also has the nickname of the Mitten State, from how its Lower Peninsula has the shape of a mitten. Finally, the state also has the nickname of Water Wonderland, from its rich water resources.
It also has various state icons.
These include the American robin as the official state bird and the brook trout as the official state fish. The state also has the apple blossom as its official flower, a distinction shared by the dwarf lake iris as the official state wildflower. The white-tailed deer makes up the state’s official mammal, though, it unofficially shares this with the wolverine.
Michigan also has an official state reptile, the painted turtle, and an official state tree, the eastern white pine. It also has an official state fossil, the mastodon, and an official state gemstone, the Isle Royale greenstone. Michigan even has an official state rock, the Petoskey stone, and an official state soil, Kalkaska sand.
Michigan has many different lakes.
We’ve already mentioned the Great Lakes, with Michigan having immediate access to Lake Erie, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and Lake Superior. In addition to the Great Lakes, Michigan has over 11,000 other lakes within its borders. This actually gives the state over 100,000 km² of the area covered by water, not including streams and other water bodies.
These include Bass Lake, a name shared by three different lakes in the states of Grand Traverse County, Interlochen, and the Forest Lakes region. There’s also Bear Lake, in Michigan’s Kalkaska County, which has a reputation for clarity thanks to the springs feeding it. It also contrasts with Lake Bancroft in Michigan’s Ishpeming City, which suffers from regular algal blooms thanks to heavy water pollution.
The state also has an anthem of its own.
Specifically, My Michigan, composed by Giles Kavanagh and O’Reilly Clint in 1933, with the latter publishing it at Detroit. The song later received official recognition by the Michigan state legislature as the state anthem in 1937.
Ironically, though, Michigan avoids playing and singing the song at any official event. This comes from the fact that the state never actually bought the rights to the song, nor did the composers release it to the public domain. This means any public use of the song would require payment of royalties to its owner.
With Clint’s death in 1961, US law requires another 70 years before the song defaults to the public domain, in 2031.
Michigan has distinctive geography.
A pair of peninsulas make up the state, called the Upper and Lower Peninsulas, separated by the Straits of Mackinac. The latitude of 45 parallel north also runs across the state, marked by the Polar-Equator Trail through both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas.
Most of the state’s water flows into the Great Lakes, except for a small part of the Upper Peninsula drained by the Wisconsin River. A small part of the Lower Peninsula also sees its water drain into the Kankakee and Illinois Rivers. No part of the state has a distance greater than 137 km from the Great Lakes, or 10 km from any natural water body.
Mount Arvon makes up the state’s highest point.
Located in Michigan’s Baraga County’s L’Anse Township, Mount Arvon stands 603 meters above sea level. Ironically, Mount Arvon only gained this status in 1982, with the neighboring Mount Curwood previously counted as Michigan’s highest point. But in that year, modern scanning technology discovered that Mount Arvon stood 30 cm taller than Mount Curwood.
This led Mount Arvon to become Michigan’s new highest point. Mount Arvon stands around 19 km from L’Anse, but the circuitous routes from the town to the mountain result in a drive of around 42 km. A paper company, MeadWestvaco, owns the mountain today, but they allow public access in recognition of the mountain’s status.
Some of the oldest mountains in the world stand in Michigan.
Specifically, the Porcupine Mountains, or as the locals call them, the Porkies. Located in the northwest of the Upper Peninsula, they reach peaks of up to 610 meters above sea level. The basalt that makes up the bulk of the mountains comes from lava flows that took place back during the Mesoproterozoic Era around 1 billion years ago.
Today, though, the basalt mostly lies buried under layers of non-volcanic rock that formed over millions of years. Old-growth forests further cover the ancient peaks, covering over 125 km² of mountain land. The name of the mountains comes from the Ojibwa Native Americans, who compared the mountains with the appearance of a crouched porcupine.
The state also includes various islands on the lakes.
These include North Manitou Island on Lake Michigan, about 12 km west-northwest of Leland. With a width of 6 km and with a shoreline of 32 km long, the island has the shape of an upside-down teardrop.
Not far from North Manitou Island, we have the smaller South Manitou Island, about 26 km west of Leland. The island has a length and width of 5 km each and even features a lake of its own, Florence Lake. Both islands have no permanent residents living on them, but South Manitou Island features a lighthouse and aid station. Other major islands in Michigan include Bois Blanc, Grand Isle, Isle Royale, and Mackinac Island, among others.
It also has various protected areas and state parks.
Michigan has one national park, the Isle Royale National Park, which stands on and covers the island of the same name. It also includes over 400 smaller islands surrounding Isle Royale over the waters of Lake Michigan.
There’s also the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Michigan also has four national forests, two each in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Ottawa National Forest and Hiawatha National Forest both grow in the Upper Peninsula. In contrast, Huron National Forest and Manistee National Forest both grow in the Lower Peninsula. Grand Island in Lake Superior also makes up a National Recreation Area.
Michigan enjoys a uniform climate.
Specifically, a continental climate, but both peninsulas experience seasonal differences between them. Most of the Lower Peninsula has hot summers and cold winters, while the Upper Peninsula and a small part of the Lower Peninsula have shorter summers as well as longer and colder winters.
On average, the state as a whole receives around 90 cm of rain per year, in addition to around 4 meters of snow in winter. Temperatures in summer can peak up to 44 degrees Celsius, and drop to as low as 46 degrees below zero Celsius.
The state also experiences up to a month’s worth of thunderstorms per year, and on average around 17 tornadoes per year. This actually makes Southern Michigan as vulnerable to tornadoes as the states of the Tornado Alley.
Prehistoric humans lived in what would become Michigan as far back as 1000 BC.
Specifically, the Hopewell Culture, the origins of which remain unknown to archaeologists today. The name itself comes from what archaeologist Warren Moorehead called the Hopewell Mound Group in Ohio. The Hopewell Culture thrived across North America, as far north as Lake Ontario and as far south as Florida. They used the rivers to travel quickly across the continent, trading goods, and raw materials among themselves and with their neighbors.
The Hopewell Culture began to decline during the 5th century AD, as a result of depleted resources. Warfare with other cultures also seems to have served as a factor in their decline. Some scholars also theorize the spread of farming as leading to a cultural shift that the Hopewell Culture couldn’t adapt to. However, scientists continue to search for concrete evidence as to what resulted in the collapse of the Hopewell Culture in the 10th century AD.
Various Native American tribes began moving into the region starting in the 12th century AD.
Algonquian peoples migrated into what would become Michigan, in response to another migration. Specifically, Iroquoians from Central Canada, who migrated south into what would become the Atlantic Seaboard of the USA. This displaced the Algonquians, who moved west in search of new lands.
Those of the Algonquians who settled in precolonial Michigan later developed into various tribes. These include the Mascouten, the Miami, the Potowatomi, the Odawa, and the Ojibwe. The Menominee also lived in Michigan at this time, along what would become the border with Wisconsin. The Mascouten Tribe would later develop further into the Wea or Wabash Tribe.
Etienne Brule became the first European explorer to arrive in the region in 1620.
That said, proper colonization of the region did not begin until 1668 when the French government included it in what they called New France. Among the most important settlements founded at the time include Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit, which formed the foundation of the modern city of Detroit.
The French also allied themselves with the Native Americans in Michigan and even developed friendly relations with them. This, however, led to France getting dragged into the Beaver Wars of the 17th century. The name references the war’s origins in the Iroquois people’s attempts to monopolize the fur trade with the Europeans.
The French and their allies at first found themselves pushed back by the Iroquois, with the French allies around Lake Erie forced from their lands. However, diseases like smallpox devastated the Iroquois population, leading to successful French counterattacks in the late 1660s that finally forced the Iroquois to make peace with France. They attacked the French and their allies in the 1680s, however, stopped when the growing power of what would become the Thirteen Colonies forced the Iroquois to turn their attention east instead of west.
The Native Americans in Michigan revolted against the British in Pontiac’s War.
France’s defeat in the Seven Years War forced them to hand over New France to England. The British, however, proved less diplomatic and respectful to the Native Americans. In particular, they ended the tradition of gifting various goods to the tribal chiefs, who would then distribute the gifts to their people.
The French had done so to compensate the Native Americans for sharing their lands with the colonists. The British, however, saw it as an unnecessary expense. They also saw the Native Americans as conquered people who they shouldn’t have to accommodate, and instead should simply obey the British. The British also limited sales of weapons and gunpowder to limit any chance of rebellion.
This, however, devastated the Native Americans, as by this time they had become dependent on modern weapons for hunting. This eventually led the Odawa leader Pontiac to attack the British in 1783. A harsh British response resulted, including massacres of civilians. This provoked even more Native American attacks, with British General Jeffrey Amherst absolutely refusing to negotiate with the Native Americans.
This led to his replacement in 1764 by Thomas Gage, and the beginning of peace negotiations. In the end, the Native Americans lost no lands, and the British had to acknowledge the authority of the tribal chiefs.
Early 19th century Michigan had a complicated history.
The USA gained most of Michigan after the American Revolution and included it in the new Northwest Territory. At the start of the 19th century, Michigan found itself included in the new Indiana Territory, before becoming its own territory in 1805.
During the War of 1812, the British quickly took Detroit. This led to brutal battles as the Americans fought to retake the city, which would become the bloodiest front of the war. Native American support for the British also led to their forced relocation out of Michigan after the war.
Michigan officially began seeking statehood in 1835, but border disputes with neighboring Ohio delayed the process. The dispute became resolved by an Act of Congress and by US President Andrew Jackson in 1836. This cleared the path to statehood, with Michigan becoming the Union’s 26th State in 1837.
Michigan solidly opposed slavery long before the American Civil War started.
This came from the fact that most of the settlers that came to Michigan originally came from New England. The industry also developed early in Michigan, in particular, mining and metallurgy. The Republican Party also dominated politics in Michigan long before it even began to apply for statehood.
All this meant that the local citizens opposed slavery, both on principle, and for practical reasons. Specifically, business and industry in Michigan preferred skilled and free labor over unskilled slave laborers. The relatively high level of education in Michigan also further strengthened the anti-slavery position of the state.
Michigan made solid contributions to the Union’s cause.
In fact, even before the civil war started, Michigan condemned US President Abraham Lincoln’s predecessor James Buchanan, for his weak position against the southern states. When South Carolina seceded from the Union in December 1860, Michigan’s state legislature became the first to brand them as traitors and rebels.
When Virginia invited Michigan to participate in a peace conference in February 1861 to try to find a compromise to avoid a civil war, Michigan’s state legislature refused. They even issued a statement condemning any and all compromise and concessions to traitors.
When the war finally began, the Union asked Michigan to contribute one regiment to the war effort. Instead, Michigan supplied seven regiments, which grew to 42 regiments by the war’s end, for a total of 90,000 Michigan troops having fought for the Union cause. Of those men, an estimated 15,000 men died in battle for the Union.
Union General George Custer originally came from Michigan.
A cavalry commander, he ironically graduated at the bottom of his class from West Point, but once the civil war started, became known for his cavalry skills. At the Battle of Gettysburg, he led outnumbered Union cavalry against J.E. Stuart’s Confederate cavalry at the East Cavalry Field and defeated them.
Then at the Battle of Cedar Creek, he again led the Union cavalry, resulting in Confederate General Jubal Early’s defeat. He led the Union cavalry in pursuit of the retreating Confederate Army and even received their request for a truce with the Union. This led to Custer’s presence when Confederate General Robert Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses Grant at Appomattox.
Custer stayed in the army after the war, which led him to develop an infamous reputation for fighting against Native Americans in the west. In particular, Custer negotiated various peace treaties with the Native Americans, only to break them once it became convenient.
This eventually led to his death at the Battle of Little Bighorn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand. Today, Custer’s reputation remains mixed, with civil war and wild west historians standing by his legend, while Native American historians and activists denounce him for his brutality after the war.
Michigan became a hotspot of the Gilded Age in the late 19th century.
The Gilded Age references the industrial boom and economic expansion of the USA after the civil war, which ended shortly before WWI. The name symbolizes how the age appeared seemingly bright and flashy on the outside. This comes from the fact that while overall the USA prospered at the time, only the elites actually benefited from it. Most people never actually saw any changes in their lives during the Gilded Age, or even if they did, they only became poorer.
Michigan’s Gilded Age ended in the 19th century, with the introduction of public education. This gave children better chances to find well-paying jobs in the future. A new generation of politicians also rose into power at this time, such as Detroit Mayor Hazen Pingree. Pingree introduced various reforms, such as minimum wage, an eight-hour workday, and abolished child labor. All this finally made the benefits of American economic prosperity accessible for the common people.
Many changes took place across the state in the early 20th century.
For one thing, hundreds of thousands of immigrants flooded into Michigan at the time, drawn by the demand for workers in the state’s factories. Many came from the southern states, but others came from Eastern and Southern Europe. Various progressives also appeared in Michigan at the time, such as the reformer Caroline Crane. A nonpolitical advocate who used scientific facts to support her position, she assessed and made studies on sanitary issues not just in Michigan, but in 13 other states.
She didn’t simply limit herself to exposing problems, but also proposed solutions for them. Her work made her famous and popular, with the media giving her the nickname America’s Housekeeper. Other progressives include Grand Rapids Mayor George Ellis, who mobilized the working classes and organized them into a powerful and influential voter base. Through the ballot, they could make their concerns known to politicians, and force them to take action.
The Great Depression hit Michigan hard.
Michigan’s large industrial base also meant the Great Depression hit the state harder than it did other states. The auto industry alone found itself having to let go of over 200,000 workers. The mining industry also collapsed, as the existing deposits proved deep and thus expensive to exploit. This caused both investors and workers to shift their efforts to shallower and cheaper mines in other states.
It took the rise of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt to push Michigan to start recovering. Federal relief funds poured into the state to stop the general slide into mass poverty. Similarly, the new Works Progress Administration offered jobs in public construction and similar projects to reverse unemployment. In fact, at the height of the recruitment drive, an estimated 500,000 workers found themselves hired by the federal government.
Various factors led to Michigan’s decline from the mid-20th century onward.
First among those involved deindustrialization, as businesses in the state decommissioned outdated factories and other industries. Cost-cutting also saw unprofitable businesses close down, all of which caused a spike in unemployment starting in the 1950s. Large numbers of African-Americans also migrated into Michigan after WWII, causing racial tensions to rise.
The resulting unrest scared off investors and caused the state economy to weaken even further. Then came the 1973 Oil Crisis, coupled with growing competition from the rebuilt and booming economies of Japan and Western Europe. All these resulted in the state’s economic decline and forced the state government to diversify the economy to cope with the changing times.
US President Gerald Ford also came from Michigan.
Specifically, from the city of Grand Rapids in Kent County. Ford entered politics after WWII, having previously served in the US Navy before leaving with the rank of lieutenant-commander. In 1949, he successfully ran for the US Congress and would represent his state for the next 25 years.
Following the resignation of US Vice President Spiro Agnew in December 1973, Ford became the first non-elected Vice President of the USA, appointed as per the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution. After US President Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974 to avoid impeachment for cheating in the US elections, Ford became the 38th President of the USA.
As President of the USA, Ford became known for the Helsinki Accords with the Soviet Union, which marked a new policy of non-confrontation in the Cold War, and so reduce the risk of a nuclear war. He also oversaw the US withdrawal from Vietnam.
That said, Ford’s term as President saw the US economy reach its lowest point since the Great Depression. He also became controversial for giving Nixon a Presidential Pardon for cheating the US elections. He ultimately ran for reelection in 1976, only to lose to the Democratic challenger, James Carter.
Michigan has diverse demographics.
Whites make up the majority of the state’s population, at an estimated 74%. German-Americans make up the plurality of whites, at 20%, followed by Irish-Americans at an estimated 11%. African-Americans follow in second place, making up an estimated 14% of the population. Asian-Americans follow in third place, making up an estimated 11% of the population.
Hispanics make up an estimated 4% of the population, while Native Americans make up less than 1%. Other ethnicities cumulatively make up an estimated 2% of the population. However, biracial or multiracial individuals make up a larger segment of the population, at an estimated 6%.
The same goes for the state’s religions.
The various Protestant denominations include a small majority of the state’s population, at 51%. Roman Catholics follow in second place, at 18% of the population, while other Christian denominations like Eastern Orthodoxy or Mormonism among others make up another 4%. Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and Muslims each include an estimated 1% of the population.
Another 1% of the population admits to not knowing what religion they follow, while another 1% of the population follow various other religions. A surprisingly large number of people in Michigan also admit they don’t follow any religion at all, while also not identifying themselves as atheists, at an estimated 24%.
It also has the second-oldest Catholic parish in the USA.
Specifically, the Basilica of Sainte Anne de Detroit, the founding of which goes back to 1701. The current church building actually stands much younger than the parish, and only goes back to 1886. Located at Detroit’s 1000 Ste. Anne Street, it features a Gothic Revival design that proved popular at the time of its construction. It also found itself included in the National Register of Historic Buildings in 1976.
Interestingly, it only gained the right to call itself a basilica in 2020, after a decree passed by Pope Francis. Before the Pope declared the parish a basilica, it’s simply called the Parish of Sainte Anne de Detroit.
The state capital at Lansing goes back to the early 19th century.
US surveyors charted the land it now stands on in 1827 and marked it as Township 4 North Range 2 West. It would also not find itself opened for public settlement and developed until after three years in 1830.
Ironically, the first settlers in Lansing arrived as part of a scam, when a pair of con artists from New York began selling land in the area. As part of their scheme, they advertised their sales as part of an expansion of a town in the area, which they named Biddle City.
When the victims arrived in Michigan, they found Biddle City never even existed in the first place. Most of them had sold everything they had for a new life but settled down regardless. They named their new settlement after the town many of them came from, Lansing, in New York state.
The Kerns Hotel Fire in 1934 became the deadliest in the city’s history.
Located in the 100 Block of Lansing’s North Grand Avenue, Kerns Hotel had four floors and 211 rooms. It also had a popular bar and restaurant which drew plenty of high-profile customers like politicians and members of local organizations. The origins of the 1934 fire remain unclear, but while many guests escaped thanks to the exterior fire escapes, most found themselves trapped inside by the fire spreading quickly through the wooden interior.
Official records estimate the death toll at 34 people, but even these admit the number’s inaccuracy, as the hotel’s own records burned in the fire. This made it impossible to completely identify how many guests the hotel had at the time. Among the casualties include Senator John Leidlein and five Congressmen. Another three Congressmen suffered various injuries from the fire.
A harrowing elephant incident took place in 1964.
It involved a dancing Asian elephant named Raji who broke out of a circus before rampaging across the city. News of the elephant spread quickly, drawing many people who came to see Raji’s rampage for themselves. This actually caused Raji to grow more agitated, which experts later blamed for animal control’s failed efforts to calm her down.
After smashing through a department store, injuring a senior citizen, and damaging a car, police finally ended Raji’s rampage with eight shots from their guns. This caused widespread criticism across the country, with some newspapers even branding the Lansing Police murderers for killing the elephant.
The European settlement of Detroit actually goes back to the 18th century.
The French settlers in 1701 named their settlement after the Detroit River, which flowed between Lake Huron and Lake Erie past their land. To encourage settlement, the French government offered land in the area for free to anyone willing to work it.
This caused the local population to grow to an estimated 800 people by 1765, making Detroit the biggest European settlement between Montreal and New Orleans. The population grew even further after English and American settlers also began arriving in Detroit. By 1773, Detroit had an estimated population of 1,400 people, which grew to over 2,000 people by 1778, during the American Revolution.
Detroit once served as Michigan’s capital.
The Michigan Territory made it their capital at the territory’s formation in 1805, and it remained the capital even after statehood until 1846. At that time, the city suffered the humiliation of falling to the British in the War of 1812. Ironically, the US commander, William Hull surrendered as a mistake, after thinking the British forces outnumbered his own.
The USA retook the city during the war, and after the war, the city’s booming growth led urban planners to adopt a new street plan based on that of Paris. The early 19th century also saw Detroit becoming a major stop on the Underground Railroad. Along this route, slaves escaping from their owners in the southern states fled to freedom in the northern states.
Detroit grew quickly during the early 20th century.
This went hand-in-hand with the city’s booming industry at the time, with the city earning the title of the World’s Automotive Capital. The heavy presence of the auto industry also encouraged the growth of the petrochemical and fuel industries. Shipping also boomed, with the city handling over 62 million tons of cargo in 1907.
In contrast, London at the time, despite serving as the capital of the globe-spanning British Empire, only handled an estimated 19 million tons of cargo. Even New York handled only an estimated 20 million tons of cargo in 1907. This eventually led to Detroit becoming the world’s fourth-largest city in 1920, with an estimated population of 1 million people.
A race riot actually erupted in the city during WWII.
Specifically, from June 20 to June 23, 1943. Ironically, it started as a result of Detroit’s economic recovery from having to meet the USA’s needs for the war effort. Even before orders for weapons and other necessities arrived from the military, the need to retool factories to produce war materials led to a huge spike in manpower needs. This led immigrants to flood into the city, with over 400,000 people arriving in Detroit between 1941 and 1943.
This, however, also led to a spike in racial tensions, from whites and African-Americans competing for jobs and homes. Many Detroit natives also felt resentful at what they saw as newcomers flooding into their city. This eventually led to the 1943 riot, which needed two days and over 6,000 federal troops to finally come to a stop. At least 34 people died, and the city suffered an estimated $2 million in damages.
The city suffered growing instability after WWII.
Again, this resulted from the changing ethnic makeup of the city, with immigrants continuing to come to the city after WWII. Racial discrimination meant African-Americans found it hard to find well-paying jobs. Not only that, but their housing opportunities also tended to have lower quality and higher prices than those enjoyed by whites.
Banks and real estate businesses also deliberately manipulated prices to keep even wealthy African-Americans from moving to better, white-dominated neighborhoods. Things only grew worse as the state economy began to decline from the 1950s onward. As unemployment rose, racial tensions caused hate crimes and discrimination to spike.
A major race riot later erupted in 1967.
Specifically, the 12th Street Riot, after the Detroit street that the riot started in on July 23, 1967. From there, it spread across the city, easily surpassing the 1943 Race Riot, and lasting for five days, ending on July 28, 1967. It started with a police raid on an unlicensed bar, with the police arresting everyone inside. This caused an angry crowd to gather and force the police to leave, but things quickly went out of control.
The crowd began looting and burning, with police crackdowns doing nothing but cause the rioters to respond harshly. This forced Michigan Governor George Romney to send in the National Guard on July 25. US President Lyndon B. Johnson also sent in 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions to help end the riot. In the end, 43 people died, over 1,000 people suffered various injuries, and the city suffered up to $45 million in damages.
Detroit became the flashpoint for the racial segregation issue in the 1970s.
This took place in August of 1970 when the NAACP accused the state government of enforcing segregation. Specifically, while they didn’t officially and legally segregate the schools, they followed policies that forced white and African-American students from studying in the same schools.
This eventually led to a series of court cases where the lower courts ruled in the NAACP’s favor. The state government took the case of the US Supreme Court, which overturned the lower courts’ rulings. In particular, the US Supreme Court ruled that local schools lay under local government authority. Racial activists have since called this one of the biggest missed opportunities for social justice in the late-20th Century.
Detroit became the face of Michigan’s economic decline in the late 20th century.
The city’s public transport system suffered the most, almost completely losing funding and leaving the city with only limited public transportation service. Unemployment skyrocketed as not just factories closed down, but even hotels, major stores, and office buildings. High unemployment also led to high crime rates.
This, in turn, led to large numbers of middle-class people leaving the city for other places. Those that stayed kept to themselves in gated communities, leaving Detroit split no longer along racial lines, but class lines. This led to Detroit becoming symbolic of economic failure and urban decay in fictional works from the late 20th century, such as in the iconic Robocop franchise.
Detroit continues to struggle with crime to this day.
The city has an average murder rate of 43 murders for every 100,000 people. 70% of murders in the city also go unsolved, while similarly 70% of all homicides involve drug-related offenses. In fact, a full 50% of all murders in Michigan take place in Detroit. Among other crimes, Detroit also has a property crime rate of 62 crimes for every 1,000 people, and similarly, 17 violent crimes for every 1,000 people.
This compared to the national average of 32 property crimes for every 1,000 people, and 5 violent crimes for every 1,000 people. That said, this still makes for an improvement from the past, with the murder rate from the 1970s actually going as high as 714 murders for every 100,000 people.
The former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick had to resign in 2008 for various charges.
A former member of the Democratic Party, he served as Mayor of Detroit from 2002 to 2008. In that year, he had to resign after receiving convictions for perjury and obstruction of justice. This led to a four-month jail sentence, followed by probation. In 2010, he received another jail sentence, this time for five years, for violating his probation.
In 2013, a federal court convicted him for racketeering and various fraud crimes, before sentencing him to 24 years in prison. He barely served eight years of that sentence, however. In 2021, just 12 hours before his term of office ended, outgoing US President Donald Trump commuted Kilpatrick’s sentence. Even then, however, Kilpatrick’s criminal record bars him from running for public office until 2033.
Detroit has the only floating ZIP Code in the entire USA.
Specifically, the boat J.W. Westcott II, which delivers mail to and from ships passing through the city’s waters. The service goes back to 1874 with Captain John Westcott using a rowboat to perform the service. The current vessel goes back to 1949 and received its name in honor of the late captain.
It received the ZIP Code 48222 from the US Postal Service, used for all mail handled by the boat. Tragically, the boat sank in an accident in 2001, killing the captain and two of his crew. The boat was salvaged in the aftermath, and after receiving repairs, returned to service soon after.
The automobile industry historically made up the most important sector of Michigan’s economy.
Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company and pioneer of modern mass-production methods, actually based his biggest factories in Detroit. Other historical auto companies like Chrysler, Dodge, Durant, General Motors, and Packard also opened factories in Detroit and other cities in Michigan. Even the state’s economic decline from the 1950s onward didn’t cause these companies to leave Michigan. Instead, they consolidated their holdings, operating only a few large factories instead of many smaller ones.
Today, Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors remain some of the biggest companies that operate in Michigan. While hit hard by the recession of the early 2000s, by 2010 all three companies have reported increased earnings as a sign of recovery.
The state does have a solid agricultural sector, though.
In fact, Michigan actually has the second-most diverse agricultural sector in the USA, after California. The state has an estimated 40,000 km² of farmland, which produces an estimated $6 billion per year in agricultural goods.
Milk makes up the most important product, followed by corn, potatoes, soybeans, sugar beets, and wheat. Plenty of livestock also live in the state, with official estimates placing the population of cows alone at 1 million. Another 1 million pigs also live in the state, along with around 78,000 sheep, and over 3 million chickens.
Tourism also makes up a large part of the economy.
Tourists bring an estimated $17 billion to the state every year and support an estimated 193,000 jobs. Detroit, in particular, has many tourist attractions, such as the Henry Ford Museum, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Detroit Zoo.
However, not all tourists come to Michigan for urban attractions, but for other pastimes, such as hunting and fishing. Tourists may in fact charter boats to fish in the Great Lakes, such as for perch, salmon, trout, and walleye.
Michigan also has the largest number of hunting licenses in the USA, at around 1 million. In fact, hunting alone brings in $2 billion every year.
The largest tulip festival in the world takes place in Michigan.
Specifically, the Tulip Time Festival, held in Holland City in the state’s Lower Peninsula. First held in 1929, the festival has taken place every year since then until 2020 when the COVID-19 Pandemic forced its cancellation for the first time.
The festival takes place in May, starting on the month’s first Saturday and ending on its second Sunday. Attractions of the festival include a Dutch Market, fireworks shows, parades, and dancing exhibitions. Tulips line the streets of the city during the festival, while tulip gardens across the city hold various events. Various celebrities have also performed in the festival over the decades, such as Johnny Cash in 1970, Christina Aguilera in 2000, and Starship in 2010, among others.
The National Cherry Festival also takes place in Michigan.
It takes place in Traverse City in the state’s Grand Traverse County, during July every year. First held in 1925, much like the Tulip Time Festival, it took place every year except during WWII and in 2020, the latter thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The festival originally took place in May, with participants coming to watch the cherry blossoms bloom. Michigan’s state legislature moved it to July in 1931, to coincide with the cherry harvest instead. However, starting in 2004, flower viewing in May restarted separately from the festival in July.
The festival earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1987, when participants baked the world’s largest cherry pie. It measured five meters in diameter and weighed an estimated 13,000 kg.
Michigan has a solid infrastructural network.
The state has four Class I railroads, all of which link to destinations across the USA, but also extend into Canada to the north. These include the Canadian National Railway, the Canadian Pacific Railway, CSX Transportation, and the Norfolk Southern Railway. Amtrak also offers interstate services, linking the cities of Western and Southern Michigan together while also linking them to Chicago in Illinois.
Major highways in Michigan include US Routes 2, 23, 31, and 131. Major interstates include I-75, I-69, I-94, and I-96, among others. The state also has various major airports, such as Detroit Metropolitan Airport, and the Gerald R. Ford International Airport.
It also has the busiest international border in the USA.
Specifically, Ambassador Bridge, which crosses the Detroit River to link Detroit with Windsor in Canada. Built between 1927 and 1929, it spans an estimated distance of 2.4 km, with a clearance above the river of 46 meters. Today, it carries an estimated 25% of all cargo that passes between the USA and Canada.
Statistics estimate that over 10,000 trucks pass through the bridge every day, along with over 4,000 cars. This actually accounts for up to 70% of all truck activity in the region. It also brings the USA annual earnings of around $13 billion alone, while supporting an estimated 150,000 jobs.
The state also has a solid educational system.
Michigan’s public schools alone serve an estimated 2 million students every year. Another over 124,000 students study in private schools, while an unclear number of students study at home. That said, private schools in the state have suffered a decline since 2009, with over 200 private schools closing after finding themselves unable to keep up with competition from charter schools.
With regard to tertiary education, the University of Michigan makes up the state’s oldest university. It goes back to 1817, decades before Michigan became a US state. Today, it has the ninth-largest campus population out of any school in the USA.
Many celebrities are from Michigan.
Madonna probably counts as the most famous of them all, with the Queen of Pop beginning her career in the 1980s. She later earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, as the best-selling female artist of all time, with over 300 million records sold worldwide. She also has the reputation of the highest-grossing solo touring artist of all time, having earned over $1 billion from ticket sales.
Other celebrities from Michigan include Ray Parker Jr. who sang the original theme song for the Ghostbusters film series. The rapper Eminem, born Marshall Bruce Mathers III, also came from Michigan.
The state also participates in various sports.
Detroit alone represents the state in four different sports. These include the Detroit Tigers in baseball, the Detroit Lions in football, the Detroit Red Wings in ice hockey, and the Detroit Pistons in men’s basketball. NASCAR also holds races regularly in Michigan, specifically at the Michigan International Speedway.
Michigan also hosts one major canoeing sports event, the Au Sable River Canoe Marathon. The Michigan Wolverines and the Michigan State Spartans also represent the state in the NCAA Big Ten Conference. Tennis Grand Slam Champion Serena Williams also originally came from Michigan. The same goes for Jordyn Wieber, the 2011 World Champion for Women’s Artistic Gymnastics.