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Michigan Travel Guide

Michigan — History and Culture

The state of Michigan got off to a roaring start thanks to its location at the confluence of the Great Lakes, the Erie Canal, and the railroads. Industry quickly became the economic engine, in particular the car sector of Detroit. At one point, Detroit was America’s fourth-largest city. Though the golden era of the automobile industry came crashing down with the recession, Detroit and Michigan are busy reinventing their role in America with hardworking residents. Expect to find a state full of friendly, easy-going folks with their eye on the future.

History

The state of Michigan was populated by many Native American tribes before the arrival of Europeans in the 17th century. Most of the tribes were related to the Algonquian group, who co-existed peacefully on the upper and lower peninsulas until the French set up shop, founding the town of Saute Ste Marie in 1668 as a base for Catholic missionaries.

The French were more or less welcomed by the Native Americans, and in 1701 the explorer Antoine Cadillac founded Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit on the site of today’s modern city, which is now known as Fort Detroit. Michigan was ruled by New France until they lost their territory to the British in the 1763 Treaty of Paris.

The War of 1812 saw the bloodiest fighting in the state’s history at the River Raisin Massacre. The Americans captured Detroit and Michigan in 1813 at the Battle of Lake Erie and went on to build Fort Wayne and other fortifications to protect the region against future British attacks.

The 1825 opening of the Erie Canal connected the area to New York City via the Great Lakes and the Hudson River. This encouraged the first major migrations to Michigan, with mainly merchants and farmers making their way to the Midwest. In the 1850’s, railroads boosted output and Detroit was at the center of the transport boom. At the turn of the 20th century, Michigan underwent another great transformation as industrialists like Henry Ford and Charles King made Detroit their base of manufacturing.

The production of automobiles was the first major industry, with names like Ford, Buick, and Dodge turning Michigan into a hugely prosperous state. The car shaped Detroit into the ethnic center it is today. Grand Rapids was another industrial powerhouse, housing GE Aviation. Things in Michigan were rosy until the collapse of the auto industry in the 1980’s. Detroit fell into ruin and the population shrank to half its previous size. Only in the past few years has Detroit and Michigan as a whole, began to reinvent itself as a tourist destination and multi-faceted urban hub. Things are beginning to look up for Motor City.

Culture

Michigan is one of America’s most successful industrial states, with a diverse ethnic population built on the back of the automotive industry. Though the state has suffered greatly in the past 20 years as the car manufacturing sector all but collapsed, the residents have shown great resilience in trying to rebuild their lives and reinvent themselves. The people of Michigan are hard-working, modest and love the outdoors. They endure some of America’s most brutal weather without complaint and in winter, you can find them out on the lakes, ice fishing or playing hockey.

Besides the car, Michigan is also famous for its music. The Motown sound was born in Detroit, and this gritty metropolis still has one of the country’s most innovative underground scenes. Though Detroit was almost knocked out by the recession, it has made great strides in recent years to create jobs and restore its city to glory. It’s still a bit rough around the edges and gets a bad rap from movies like 8 Mile, but Detroit is an exciting place to visit.

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