Please update your browser

You're using a version of Internet Explorer that isn't supported by Questia.
To get a better experience, go to one of these sites and get the latest
version of your preferred browser:

Michigan History

Michigan

Michigan (mĬsh´Ĭgən), upper midwestern state of the United States. It consists of two peninsulas thrusting into the Great Lakes and has borders with Ohio and Indiana (S), Wisconsin (W), and the Canadian province of Ontario (N,E).

Facts and Figures

Area, 58,216 sq mi (150,779 sq km). Pop. (2000) 9,938,444, a 6.9% increase since the 1990 census. Capital, Lansing. Largest city, Detroit. Statehood, Jan. 26, 1837 (26th state). Highest pt., Mt. Curwood, 1,980 ft (604 m); lowest pt., Lake Erie, 572 ft (174 m). Nickname, Wolverine State. Motto,Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam Circumspice [If You Seek a Pleasant Peninsula, Look about You]. State bird, robin. State flower, apple blossom. State tree, white pine. Abbr., Mich.; MI

Geography

The Lower Peninsula, shaped like a mitten, is separated from Ontario, Canada, on the east by Lake Erie and Lake Huron, and by the Detroit River and the St. Clair River, which together link these two Great Lakes. It is bordered by Lake Michigan on the west, across which lies Wisconsin. The Upper Peninsula lies northeast of Wisconsin between Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, and is separated from Ontario by the narrow St. Marys River.

The Upper Peninsula. known as the U.P. (its residents call themselves Yoopers), is separated from the Lower Peninsula by the Straits of Mackinac; a bridge connecting the two peninsulas was opened in 1957 and has spurred the development of the Upper Peninsula. The eastern portion of the Upper Peninsula has swampy flats and limestone hills on the Lake Michigan shore, while sandstone ridges rise abruptly from the rough waters of Lake Superior; in the west the land rises to forested mountains, still rich in copper and iron.

The northern Michigan wilds, numerous inland lakes, and some 3,000 mi (4,800 km) of shoreline, combined with a pleasantly cool summer climate, have long attracted vacationers. In the winter Michigan's snow-covered hills bring skiers from all over the Midwest. Places of interest in the state include Greenfield Village, a re-creation of a 19th-century American village, and the Henry Ford Museum, both at Dearborn; Pictured Rocks and Sleeping Bear Dunes national lakeshores; and Isle Royal National Park.

Lansing is the capital, and Detroit is the largest city. Other major cities are Grand Rapids, Sterling Heights, Warren, Flint, and Ann Arbor.

Economy

The Upper Peninsula is northern woods country, with what has been described as "ten months of winter and two months of poor sledding." The abundance of furred animals and forests early attracted fur traders and lumberjacks. Animals were trapped out, virgin forests were stripped, and, in addition, pure copper and high-grade iron ore were rapidly wrested from the earth, so that virtually all of the Upper Peninsula's mines have been closed. Deer, bear, and other game in the forests, as well as abundant fish in streams and lakes, keep the area a rich hunting and fishing ground. Selective cutting and replanting of trees are now employed in the second-growth forests.

The Lower Peninsula is less wild, but in parts no less beautiful, than the Upper. Its forests were also cut over in the lumber boom of the late 19th cent., when Michigan was briefly the world leader in lumber production. The soil of these cut-over lands, unlike the productive earth in other areas of the Lower Peninsula, proved generally unsuitable for agriculture, and reforestation has been undertaken.

The Lower Peninsula has its own mineral riches, including gypsum, sandstone, limestone, salt, cement, sand, and gravel, but its great wealth lies in the many farms and factories. The surrounding waters temper the climate, providing a long growing season. Fields of grain and corn cover much of the southern counties, and Michigan's noted fruit belt lines the shore of Lake Michigan (the state leads the nation in the production of cherries). Dairying is the most lucrative farm business. Corn is the chief crop, followed by greenhouse products, soybeans, apples, carrots, celery, cucumbers, and other vegetables.

Manufacturing accounts for 30% of Michigan's economic production, more than twice as much as any other sector. The manufacture of automobiles and transportation equipment is by far the state's chief industry, and Detroit, Dearborn, Flint, Pontiac, and Lansing are historic centers of automobile production, although the industry is now in dramatic decline throughout the state. The automobile industry's mass-production methods, developed here, were the core of the early-20th-century industrial revolution. Other Michigan manufactures include nonelectrical machinery, fabricated metal products, primary metals, chemicals, and food products. Among Michigan's most important industrial centers are Saginaw, Bay City, Muskegon, and Jackson. The chemical industry in Midland is one of the nation's largest; Kalamazoo is an important paper-manufacturing and pharmaceuticals center; Grand Rapids is noted for its furniture, and Battle Creek for its breakfast foods.

Although mining contributes less to income in the state than either agriculture or manufacturing, Michigan still has important nonfuel mineral production, chiefly of iron ore, cement, sand, and gravel, and is a leading producer of peat, bromine, calcium-magnesium chloride, gypsum, and magnesium compounds. Abundant natural beauty and excellent fishing help to make tourism a major Michigan industry. Michigan's historic lack of manufacturing diversity has made it particularly susceptible to the fluctuations of the national economy, and in recent years it has tried to diversify, attracting high-technology industry and developing the service sector.

Government and Higher Education

Michigan's constitution, adopted in 1963, provides for a governor serving a term of four years, who may be reelected. The state legislature is made up of a senate with 38 members and a house of representatives with 110 members. Michigan sends 14 representatives and 2 senators to the U.S. Congress and has 16 electoral votes in presidential elections. John Engler, a Republican, was elected governor in 1990 and reelected in 1994 and 1998. In 2002, a Democrat, Jennifer Granholm, was elected to succeed him; she was reelected in 2006. Republican Rick Snyder was elected to the office in 2010.

Institutions of higher education include the Univ. of Michigan, at Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Flint; Michigan State Univ., at East Lansing; the Univ. of Detroit Mercy and Wayne State Univ., at Detroit; Western Michigan Univ. and Kalamazoo College, at Kalamazoo; Eastern Michigan Univ., at Ypsilanti; Northern Michigan Univ., at Marquette; Central Michigan Univ., at Mt. Pleasant; and many other private and state colleges.

History

Native Americans and French Explorers

The Ojibwa, the Ottawa, the Potawatomi, and other Algonquian-speaking Native American groups were living in Michigan when the French explorer Étienne Brulé landed at the narrows of Sault Ste. Marie in 1618, probably the first European to have reached present Michigan. Later French explorers, traders, and missionaries came, including Jean Nicolet, who was searching for the Northwest Passage; Jacques Marquette, who founded a mission in the Mackinac region; and the empire builder, Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, who came on the Griffon, the first ship to sail the Great Lakes. French posts were scattered along the lakes and the rivers, and Mackinac Island (in the Straits of Mackinac) became a center of the fur trade. Fort Pontchartrain, later Detroit, was founded in 1701 by Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac. The vast region was weakly held by France until lost to Great Britain in the last conflict (1754–63) of the French and Indian Wars.

Resistance to British Occupation

The Native Americans of Michigan, who had lived in peace with the French, resented the coming of the British, who were the allies of the much-hated Iroquois tribes. Under Pontiac they revolted (see Pontiac's Rebellion) against the British occupation. The rebellion, which began in 1763, was short-lived, ending in 1766, and the Native Americans subsequently supported the British during the American Revolution. Native American resistance to U.S. control was effectively ended at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794 with the victory of Gen. Anthony Wayne. Despite provisions of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolution (1783; see Paris, Treaty of), the British held stubbornly to Detroit and Mackinac until 1796.

After passage of the Northwest Ordinance in 1787, Michigan became part of the Northwest Territory. However, even after the Northwest Territory was broken up and Detroit was made (1805) capital of Michigan Territory, British agents still maintained great influence over the Native Americans, who fought on the British side in the War of 1812. In that war Mackinac and Detroit fell almost immediately to the British as a result of the ineffective control of U.S. Gen. William Hull and his troops. Michigan remained in British hands through most of the war until Gen. William Henry Harrison in the battle of Thames and Oliver Hazard Perry in the battle of Lake Erie restored U.S. control.

Settlement and Statehood

After peace came, pioneers moved into Michigan. The policy of pushing Native Americans westward and opening the lands for settlement was largely due to the efforts of Gen. Lewis Cass, who was governor of Michigan Territory (1813–31) and later a U.S. Senator. Steamboat navigation on the Great Lakes and sale of public lands in Detroit both began in 1818, and the Erie Canal was opened in 1825. Farmers came to the Michigan fields, and the first sawmills were built along the rivers.

The move toward statehood was slowed by the desire of Ohio and Indiana to absorb parts of present S Michigan, and by the opposition of southern states to the admission of another free state. The Michigan electorate organized a government without U.S. sanction and in 1836 operated as a state, although outside the Union. To resolve the boundary dispute Congress proposed that the Toledo strip be ceded to Ohio and Indiana with compensation to Michigan of land in the Upper Peninsula. Though the Michigan electorate rejected the offer, a group of Democratic leaders accepted it, and by their acceptance Michigan became a state in 1837. (The admission of Arkansas as a slaveholding state offset that of Michigan as a free state.) Detroit served as the capital until 1847, when it was replaced by Lansing.

After statehood, Michigan promptly adopted a program of internal improvement through the building of railroads, roads, and canals, including the Soo Locks Ship Canal at Sault Ste. Marie. At the same time lumbering was expanding, and the population grew as German, Irish, and Dutch immigrants arrived. In 1854 the Republican party was organized at Jackson, Mich. During the Civil War, Michigan fought on the side of the Union, contributing 90,000 troops to the cause.

Reform Movements

After the war the state remained firmly Republican until 1882. Then Michigan farmers, moved by the same financial difficulties and outrage at high transportation and storage rates that aroused other Western farmers, supported movements advocating agrarian interests, such as the Granger movement and the Greenback party. The farmers joined with the growing numbers of workers in the mines and lumber camps to elect a Greenback-Democratic governor in 1882 and succeeded in getting legislation passed for agrarian improvement and public welfare.

Reforms influenced by the labor movement were the creation of a state board of labor (1883), a law enforcing a 10-hr day (1885), and a moderate child-labor law (1887). The lumbering business, with its yield of wealth to the timber barons, declined to virtual inactivity. Some of the loggers joined the ranks of industrial workers, which were further swelled by many Polish and Norwegian immigrants.

Assembly Lines and Labor Strife

With the invention of the automobile and the construction of automotive plants, industry in Michigan was altered radically. Henry Ford established the Ford Motor Company in 1903 and introduced conveyor-belt assembly lines in 1918. General Motors and the Chrysler Corporation were established shortly after Ford. Along with the development of mass-production methods came the growth of the labor movement. In the 1930s, when the automobile industry was well established in the state, labor unions struggled for recognition. The conflict between labor and the automotive industry, which continued into the 1940s, included sit-down strikes and was sometimes violent. Walter Reuther, a pioneer of the labor movement, was elected president of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) in 1946.

In World War II Michigan produced large numbers of tanks, airplanes, and other war matériel. Industrial production again expanded after the Korean War broke out in 1950, and the opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway in 1959 increased export trade by bringing many oceangoing vessels to the port of Detroit. In the early 1960s, however, economic growth lagged and unemployment became a problem in the state.

Racial Tensions and Recession

Detroit was shaken by severe race riots in 1967 that left 43 persons dead and many injured, in addition to causing $200 million in damage. In the wake of the rioting, programs were undertaken to improve housing facilities and job opportunities in the city, but these failed as the city suffered massive outmigration. While Detroit deteriorated, the suburbs experienced dramatic growth, spreading throughout SE Michigan. Resistance to busing was a major political issue in the state in the early 1970s.

The state's dependence on the auto industry was exhibited during the recession of the early 1980s, when car sales slumped, many factories were closed and Michigan's unemployment rate at over 15% was the nation's highest. The federal government helped bail out the Chrysler Corporation in 1979, authorizing $1.5 billion in loan guarantees. After a brief period of recovery through limited diversification of the state economy, Michigan was again especially hard hit by national recession and continuing foreign competition in the early 1990s, and it continued to suffer large, mainly auto-related manufacturing job losses over the next two decades. The financial difficulties arising in large part from the effects of those job losses led Detroit to file for municipal bankruptcy in 2013.

Bibliography

See J. A. Door, Jr., and D. F. Eschman, Geology of Michigan (1970); A. R. Gilpin, Territory of Michigan, 1805–1887 (1971); R. A. Santer, Michigan: Heart of the Great Lakes (1977); L. M. Sommers, ed., Atlas of Michigan (1977) and et al., Michigan: A Geography (1984). B. Blenz, The Encyclopedia of Michigan (1981); B. Rubenstein and L. Ziewacz, Michigan (1981).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Michigan: A History of the Great Lakes State
Bruce A. Rubenstein; Lawrence E. Ziewacz.
Harlan Davidson, 2002
Michigan Politics & Government: Facing Change in a Complex State
William P. Browne; Kenneth VerBurg.
University of Nebraska Press, 1995
Lewis Cass and the Politics of Moderation
Willard Carl Klunder.
Kent State University Press, 1996
Layered Violence: The Detroit Rioters of 1943
Dominic J. Capeci Jr.; Martha Wilkerson.
University Press of Mississippi, 1991
Life in the Shadows of the Crystal Palace, 1910-1927: Ford Workers in the Model T Era
Clarence Hooker.
Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1997
Detroit and the Problem of Order, 1830-1880: A Geography of Crime, Riot, and Policing
John C. Schneider.
University of Nebraska Press, 1980
The Yankee West: Community Life on the Michigan Frontier
Susan E. Gray.
University of North Carolina Press, 1996
At Custer's Side: The Civil War Writings of James Harvey Kidd
James Harvey Kidd; Eric J. Wittenberg.
Kent State University Press, 2001
The Five Dollar Day: Labor Management and Social Control in the Ford Motor Company, 1908-1921
Stephen Meyer.
State University of New York Press, 1981
Search for more books and articles on Michigan history