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Michigan State History

History | Symbols | Interesting Facts | Famous People


1620—French explorer Etienne Brule reaches what is now Michigan

1634—Jean Nicolet of France explores Lake Michigan

1668—Sault Ste. Marie, the first permanent settlement, founded in Michigan

1701—Detroit is established

1763—French and Indian War ends; British gain control

1787—Michigan becomes part of the Northwest Territory

1805—The Michigan Territory is created; fire destroys most of Detroit

1812—War of 1812 begins; Detroit falls to British control

1813—Americans regain Detroit

1837—Michigan becomes the 26th state

1855—The Soo Canal is completed

1925—Oil is discovered in the Saginaw area

1935—The United Automobile Workers Union is formed

1957—The Mackinac Bridge is completed

1963—Martin Luther King Jr. leads civil rights march in Detroit

1992—The Michigan Scenic Rivers Act is passed

Native American Chippewa and Menominee tribes lived in the Upper Peninsula and Miami, Ottawa, and Potawatomi tribes in the Lower Peninsula when French explorer Étienne Brulé arrived in 1620.  He named the region New France.

In 1634, Jean Nicolet explored parts of the Upper Peninsula for France.  Missionaries arrived and established a mission at Keweenaw Way in 1660.  In 1668, Father Jacques Marquette established the first permanent settlement of Michigan at Sault Sainte Marie.  By 1700, missionaries had explored much of the region and built missions and trading posts throughout both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas.

At the end of the French and Indian Wars in 1763, England controlled most French claims in North America, including Michigan.  Chief Pontiac led the Ottawa Indians in attacking a number of forts this same year, killing many of the settlers.

During the Revolutionary War, settlers in Michigan favored British rule and often raided American settlements.  At the end of the war in 1783, Michigan came under American control.  Detroit and Fort Mackinac however, did not surrender until 1796.

In 1787, Michigan became part of the Northwest Territory.  In 1805, the Lower Peninsula and the eastern part of the Upper Peninsula became the Territory of Michigan.  Britain recaptured Detroit and Fort Mackinac during the War of 1812, and then returned it at the end of the war two years later.

With completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, American settlers now had water transportation to the western territories.  Many moved to Michigan from the eastern states.  After five years of trying to settle a land dispute with Ohio, Michigan became the 26th state on January 26, 1837.

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula proved to hold many valuable minerals.  In 1855, the Soo Canal was completed and minerals could be sent to iron and steel factories along the Great Lakes.  By 1870, lumbering in the northern forests led the nation in lumber production.

No battles were fought on Michigan land during the Civil War (1861-1865), but over 90,000 Michigan soldiers fought in the Union Army.  The Fourth Michigan Calvary under General Custer captured Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy on May 10, 1865.

Michigan soon became center to a new automobile industry.  In 1899, Ransom Olds started the Olds Motor Works in Detroit.  Henry Ford organized the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn in 1903.  Other plants were built in Lansing and Flint.  Detroit soon became known as the Automobile Capital of the World.

The Great Depression (1929-1939) caused hundreds of thousands of people to lose their jobs.  A government program, The Civilian Conservation Corps, had over 100 camps in Michigan employing men to conserve and develop natural resources.  Other public works projects were available through The Works Progress Administration.

During both World Wars, the entire automobile industry switched to manufacturing tanks, jeeps, airplanes, and other needed war materials.  This production helped to end the Great Depression.  In 1955, a new copper mine opened in Ontonagon.  Shipping was facilitated in 1957 with the completion of the Mackinac Bridge, connecting the Upper and Lower Peninsulas.

Racial problems escalated in 1967.  Forty-three people were killed and over $45 million worth of property ruined, in an eight-day riot in Detroit.  New taxes were adopted to bring increase revenue for education, welfare, and other government services.  In 1972, a state lottery was also established to help raise money for these purposes.

The 1970s brought another recession nationwide to the economy.  With an increase in international markets, the automobile industry slumped.  By 1980, Michigan had the highest unemployment rate in the nation.  Gratefully, automotive sales increased in 1984 that reduced the state unemployment.

Today Michigan leaders are looking for ways to attract new industries to the state.  Tourism has increased and some computer-related businesses are moving into the state.