Michigan became the 26th state to join the Union in January 1837. Known by several nicknames such as the Wolverine State, Great Lakes State, and Water Winter Wonderland, its history is steeped in Native Americans and cars – an odd combination, to be sure.
The indigenous tribes were mostly the Ojibwe, Ottawa, and the Potawatomi. They lived on the land for thousands of years until the first Europeans started to explore the area. In 1618 Frenchman Etienne Brule became the first recorded explorer in the area, though he had been searching for a route to China.
Europeans continued to settle in the area, which angered the Native American tribes as their ancestral land was taken from them. From 1754-1763, what’s referred to as the French and Indian War took place. This was a conflict between the British and French, where each side had Native Americans allies assist them in the fight. Ottawa Chief Pontiac had several tribes following him and they warred on the side of the French, attacking British settlements and forts. The British, however, were able to defeat Pontiac’s warriors and claimed the territory.
Michigan was a unique territory during the American Revolutionary War in that its citizens were not as displeased with English rule as the other colonies. In 1787, after the Americans’ victory, the region was declared part of the Northwest Territory for the United States. The British didn’t leave until nearly ten years later, in 1796, and the U.S. did not attain control of the entire territory until 1818.
The War of 1812 saw the British taking over Michigan once again. They were defeated a year later at the Battle of Lake Erie.
One of the most notable individuals of the Wolverine State was Henry Ford, who was responsible for starting off the automobile industry with a bang and making Detroit a booming city for auto manufacturing. Though Ford didn’t invent the car itself, he was the first to produce affordable motor vehicles for the masses. His first “horseless carriage” was called the Ford Quadricycle, and its engineering attracted famed inventor Thomas Edison, who encouraged Ford to build another model. In 1903, Ford established the Ford Motor Company and a few years later, in October 1908, he released his first car, the Model T. To help with production, he created the assembly line to produce automobiles at a much faster rate. By 1918, half of the cars in the U.S. were Model Ts.
Michigan is also known for its many lakes and streams. It has more than 11,000 inland lakes and over 36,000 miles of streams. The Great Lakes, which have 3,126 miles of shoreline, comprise more than 80% of the fresh water supply for North America, and more than 20% of the world’s supply.