Detroit - History

History

The city's name originates from the Detroit River (French: le détroit du Lac Érié, meaning the strait of Lake Erie), linking Lake Huron and Lake Erie; in the historical context, the strait included Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River. Traveling up the Detroit River in 1679 on the ship Le Griffon with Cavelier de La Salle, Father Louis Hennepin noted the north bank of the river as an ideal location for a settlement.

There, in 1701, the French officer Antoine de La Mothe Cadillac, along with fifty-one additional French-Canadians, founded a settlement called Fort Ponchartrain du Détroit, naming it after the comte de Pontchartrain, Minister of Marine under Louis XIV. France offered free land in order to attract families to Detroit, which grew to 800 people in 1765, the largest city between Montreal and New Orleans.

François Marie Picoté, sieur de Belestre (Montreal 1719–1793) was the last French military commander at Fort Detroit (1758–1760), surrendering the fort on November 29, 1760 to the British. The region's fur trade was an important economic activity. Detroit's city flag reflects this French heritage. (See Flag of Detroit, Michigan).

During the French and Indian War (1760), British troops gained control and shortened the name to Detroit. Several tribes led by Chief Pontiac, an Ottawa leader, launched Pontiac's Rebellion (1763), including a siege of Fort Detroit. Partially in response to this, the British Royal Proclamation of 1763 included restrictions on white settlement in unceded Indian territories. Detroit passed to the United States under the Jay Treaty (1796). In 1805, fire destroyed most of the settlement. A river warehouse and brick chimneys of the wooden homes were the sole structures to survive.

From 1805 to 1847, Detroit was the capital of Michigan. As the city expanded, the street layout plan developed by Augustus B. Woodward, Chief Justice of the Michigan Territory was followed. Detroit fell to British troops during the War of 1812 in the Siege of Detroit, was recaptured by the United States in 1813 and incorporated as a city in 1815.

Prior to the American Civil War, the city's access to the Canadian border made it a key stop along the underground railroad. Then a Lieutenant, the future president Ulysses S. Grant was stationed in the city. His dwelling is still at the Michigan State Fairgrounds. Because of this local sentiment, many Detroiters volunteered to fight during the American Civil War, including the 24th Michigan Infantry Regiment (part of the legendary Iron Brigade) which fought with distinction and suffered 82% casualties at Gettysburg in 1863. At the arrival of the First Volunteer Infantry Regiment in Washington, Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying "Thank God for Michigan!" Following the death of President Abraham Lincoln, George Armstrong Custer delivered a eulogy to the thousands gathered near Campus Martius Park. Custer led the Michigan Brigade during the American Civil War and called them the Wolverines.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many of the city's Gilded Age mansions and buildings arose. Detroit was referred to as the Paris of the West for its architecture, and for Washington Boulevard, recently electrified by Thomas Edison. Strategically located along the Great Lakes waterway, Detroit emerged as a transportation hub. The city had grown steadily from the 1830s with the rise of shipping, shipbuilding, and manufacturing industries. In 1896, a thriving carriage trade prompted Henry Ford to build his first automobile in a rented workshop on Mack Avenue. During this period, Detroit expanded its borders annexing all or part of several surrounding villages and townships.

In 1903 Ford founded the Ford Motor Company. Ford's manufacturing—and those of automotive pioneers William C. Durant, the Dodge brothers, Packard, and Walter Chrysler—reinforced Detroit's status as the world's automotive capital; it also served to encourage truck manufacturers such as Rapid and Grabowsky.

With the introduction of Prohibition, smugglers used the river as a major conduit for Canadian spirits, organized in large part by the notorious Purple Gang. Strained racial relations were evident in the 1920s trial of Dr. Ossian Sweet, a black Detroit physician acquitted of murder. A man died when shots were fired from Ossian's house into a threatening mob who gathered to try to force him out of a predominantly white neighborhood.

With the factories came high-profile labor unions in the 1930s such as the United Auto Workers which initiated disputes with manufacturers. The labor activism during those years increased influence of union leaders in the city such as Jimmy Hoffa of the Teamsters and Walter Reuther of the autoworkers. The 1940s saw the construction of the world's first urban freeway system below ground level, the Davison and the American automobile industry's productive capacity summoned to support the Allied powers during World War II which led to Detroit's nickname as the Arsenal of Democracy. There have been six ships of the United States Navy named after the city, including USS Detroit (LCS-7).

Industry spurred growth during the first half of the 20th century as the city drew tens of thousands of new residents, particularly workers from the Southern United States, to become the United States' fourth largest. At the same time, tens of thousands of European immigrants located in the city. Social tensions rose with the rapid pace of growth. The color blind promotion policies of the auto plants resulted in racial tension that erupted into a full-scale riot in 1943.

Consolidation during the 1950s, especially in the automobile sector, streamlined the supply chain. An extensive freeway system constructed in the 1950s and 1960s had facilitated commuting. In 1940, the city held about one-third of the state's population, while the metropolitan region currently holds roughly one-half. Commensurate with the shift of population and jobs to its suburbs, the city's tax base eroded.

During the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Detroit witnessed social unrest, culminating in the Twelfth Street riot in July 1967. The gasoline crises of 1973 and 1979 impacted the U.S. auto industry as small cars from foreign makers made inroads.

Renaissance has been a common theme among city leaders, reinforced by the construction of the Renaissance Center in the late 1970s. This complex of skyscrapers, designed as a city within a city, together with other developments, slowed and eventually began to reverse the trend of businesses leaving Downtown Detroit by the late 1990s.

In 1980, Detroit hosted the Republican National Convention which nominated Ronald Reagan to a successful bid for President of the United States. During the 1980s, vacant structures were demolished to make way for new development and revitalization.

In the 1990s, the city began to receive a revival with much of it centered in the Downtown, Midtown, and New Center areas. One Detroit Center (1993) arose on the city skyline. In the ensuing years, three casinos opened: MGM Grand Detroit, Motor City Casino, and Greektown Casino which debuted as resort hotels in 2007–08. New downtown stadiums were constructed for the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions in 2000 and 2002, respectively; this put the Lions' home stadium in the city proper for the first time since 1974. The city also saw the historic Book Cadillac Hotel and the Fort Shelby Hotel reopen for the first time in over 20 years. The city hosted the 2005 MLB All-Star Game, 2006 Super Bowl XL, 2006 World Series, WrestleMania 23 in 2007, and the NCAA Final Four in April 2009 all of which prompted many improvements to the downtown area. In 2011, Detroit Medical Center and Henry Ford Health System substantially increased investments in medical research facilities and hospitals in the city's Midtown and New Center.

The city's riverfront is the focus of much development following the example of Windsor, Ontario which began its waterfront parkland conversion in the 1990s. In 2001, the first portion (stretching from Joe Louis Arena through Hart Plaza) of the International Riverfront was completed as a part of the city's 300th anniversary celebration. In succeeding years, the waterfront gained miles of parks and fountains. In 2011, the Port Authority Passenger Terminal opened with the river walk connecting Hart Plaza to the Renaissance Center. This development is a mainstay in the city's plan to enhance its economy through tourism. Along the river, developers are constructing upscale condominiums such as Watermark Detroit. Some city limit signs, particularly on the Dearborn border say "Welcome to Detroit, The Renaissance City Founded 1701."

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