At one time, the state of Michigan was simply known as the “Michigan Territory,” and it was lightly settled. Since the European settlement began in large numbers in the 1800s, Michigan has changed a great deal. In time, the state would become home to nearly ten million people and serve as the center of the American automotive industry.
To better understand how “The Great Lakes State” came to its present form, read this article’s historical facts on Michigan. As with much of US history, the state of Michigan is filled with conflict, economic change and interesting political developments.
Michigan’s Early Years
Prior to French, British and American settlement in the region that would become the state of Michigan, a number of different aboriginal groups occupied the area. The main tribal groups were the Ottawa, Menominee, Chippewa, and Miami. Most of the native groups inhabiting the area were Algonquian but there were some Iroquoians as well.
The various indigenous groups that resided in Michigan were not politically unified. When European explorers and settlers began entering the area, much pressure was exerted on these tribes. During the War of Independence, for example, a number of indigenous groups sided with Britain on the assumption the British would be more likely to protect their rights. The aftermath of promises and agreements made to tribes during this period came to have long-term consequences in both Canada and the United States.
The Territory of Michigan (1805-1837)
Following the War of Independence, Michigan continued to be politically contested. The British retained a number of military forts in the region until the 1790s. Furthermore, several battles on land and sea during the War of 1812 involved Michigan. For a time, it seemed likely that Michigan may have to be heavily fortified against British and Canadian forces. Fortunately, the 1814 Treaty of Ghent ended the conflict and peace returned to Michigan. The first half of the 19th century witnessed ever-increasing numbers of American settlers arrive in the state, as feared by the region’s indigenous groups.
Much of 20th century Michigan was dominated by the rise and decline of the automotive industry. Headquartered in Detroit, General Motors and the Ford Motor Company built vast factories to build cars for Americans and for export. Even before the gains won by American labor unions but especially after, automotive workers tended to enjoy relatively good pay and benefits. The automotive industry was first dominated by white men, but women and African-Americans increasingly became common throughout Michigan’s factories and industrial facilities.
Following the end of the Second World War in 1945, large numbers of African-Americans moved from southern states to Michigan and other northern states. The prospect of industrial employment and less discrimination proved irresistible. The influx of African-Americans had many different impacts on the state. The 1959 establishment of Motown Records changed American popular music and gave rise to a number of popular African- American performers, artists and musicians including Stevie Wonder (born in Saginaw, Michigan) and Diana Ross (born in Detroit, Michigan). Unfortunately, Michigan also has a history of difficult race relations. In 1967, the 12th Street riot in Detroit erupted in reaction to action by the city’s police force. By the conclusion of the riot, several dozen people had been killed and Detroit’s reputation was forever changed.
Interesting Historical Facts
Here are some final historical facts on Michigan to consider about the state’s history:
- 1796: U.S. troops under the command of Lt. Colonel John F. Hamtramck take over Detroit.
- Gerald Ford: The only U.S. President to come from Michigan. He served as 38th President of the United States (August 1974-January 1977).
- 1837: Michigan was admitted as a state to the United States of America in 1837.
- 1903: Henry Ford starts the Ford Motor Company in Detroit in 1903.
- Charles Lindbergh: Born in Detroit, Lindbergh was one of the 20th century’s most accomplished aviators.
- 50 Essential Michigan History Books, http://www.michigan.gov/som/0,1607,7-192-29938_30240_30252-57682–,00.html
- Michigan Through The Years, http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-54463_54466_20840—,00.html
- Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Geographicus Rare Antique Maps
- Historical Society of Michigan, http://www.hsmichigan.org/