Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Michigan from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

State in north-central USA, situated in the Midwest and Great Lakes regions, consisting of two peninsular masses separated by the Straits of Mackinac; the mitten-shaped, north–south-oriented Lower Peninsula is bordered to the south by Ohio and Indiana, by Lake Michigan to the west, and to the north and east by lakes Huron, Erie, and Saint Clair, and the Detroit and St Clair rivers; the east–west-oriented Upper Peninsula is bordered to the south by Wisconsin, by Lake Superior to the north, by Ontario, Canada, to the northeast, across St Mary's River and by Lake Michigan to the south; area 147,122 sq km/56,804 sq mi; population (2010) 9,883,640 (Michigan was the only state whose population fell 2000–2010); capital Lansing. Michigan's nickname, the Wolverine State, is thought to date back to a land border dispute with Ohio, when Ohioans described Michiganians as ‘vicious as wolverines’. It is also called the Great Lakes State, bordering four of the five Great Lakes and home to more than 11,000 inland lakes. During the 20th century Michigan's largest city, Detroit, became the car capital of the world, known as the Motor City, or Motown. The name Motown became synonymous with a distinct rhythm and blues music. Steel production and agriculture, particularly corn and fruit, are also important economically. Other major cities include Grand Rapids, Warren, Flint, Sterling Heights, and Ann Arbor. Before pioneer settlement, Michigan was home to the Algonquian-speaking American Indians and Huron peoples. Michigan was admitted to the Union in 1837 as the 26th US state.

Physical Michigan is the 11th largest state in the USA and contains two natural land regions: the Superior Upland, a subsection of the Canadian Shield; and the Central Lowland, a subdivision of the Interior Plains.

The Superior Upland, found in the western half of the Upper Peninsula, is rough and forested, marked by low mountain ranges including the Gogebic, Porcupine, Menominee, and Huron. The state's highest point is Mount Arvon (604 m/1,980 ft) in Baraga County. The region is known for its Precambrian rock, the result of repeated glacial attacks removing sedimentary deposits and leaving exposed ancient granite and metamorphic rock. The Keweenaw Peninsula, jutting northward into Lake Superior, is Michigan's main copper-ore-bearing region.

The Central Lowland region covers the entire Lower Peninsula and the eastern section of the Upper Peninsula. The Upper Peninsula contains vast swamp areas, created by glacier movement that disrupted the land drainage. Sandstone tablelands are found along the Lake Superior shore. The Lower Peninsula is mostly level, with gently rolling hills and further to the north a tableland dotted by hills. The average elevation is 270 m/886 ft above sea level. Along the western shore extends a vast expanse of sand dunes sculpted by punishing winds blowing off Lake Michigan.

One of Michigan's most notable land formations is the Niagara Escarpment, featuring a visible ledge of limestone hills that runs along the southern edge of the Upper Peninsula. Unlike other cliff formations, the Escarpment is a cuesta (a large ridge created by the erosion of dipping sedimentary rocks, with one steep side and one gently sloping side), not a geological fault. The Niagara Escarpment is traceable from the Niagara River to the northern coast of Michigan, forming the spine of Ontario's Bruce Peninsula.

Michigan's rivers are not among the primary rivers in the USA, most being too shallow and narrow to navigate. The Ontonagon River is the largest in the Superior Upland region and empties into Lake Superior. Main rivers on the Lower Peninsula include the Saginaw and Au Sable rivers, which flow into Lake Huron, and the Muskegon, Grand, St Joseph, Kalamazoo, and Manistee rivers, which drain into Lake Michigan. The Detroit, St Clair, and St Mary's rivers provide vital links between lakes Superior, Huron, and Erie.

The climate of the state is influenced by its proximity to the lake shores; the counties closest to the shore have a moderate climate and experience tempering lake winds that warm the winters and cool the summers. Interior counties have a continental climate, characterized by four distinct seasons. Because Michigan extends nearly six latitudinal degrees, the average annual temperature of the Lower Peninsula is ten degrees higher than the Upper Peninsula. The coastal strip along Lake Michigan experiences what is known as the ‘lake effect’, an unusually large amount of snowfall from westerly storm fronts moving across the water.

Animals indigenous to the area include the black bear, antlered moose, elk, deer, porcupines, opossums, beaver, muskrat, mink, and raccoon. Fish found in the many lakes and rivers include chub, whitefish, salmon, perch, crappie, trout, and herring. The partridge, quail, grouse, and wild turkey are the principal birds in the region.

Features The Upper Peninsula has been connected to the rest of the state since 1957 by the 8-km/5-mi Mackinac Bridge. Located between the peninsulas is Mackinac Island, almost all of which is a state park. Motor vehicles are not allowed on the island and visitors can walk through its Victorian village and explore Old Fort Mackinac, a former British stronghold. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore runs along the shore of Lake Superior for 64 km/40 mi and features waterfalls, colour-drenched sandstone cliffs tinted by the minerals in the water, beaches, dunes, and wildlife. The landscapes in the Porcupine Mountains and the waterfalls of the fast-moving Tahquamenon River are also significant features.

The Keweenaw Peninsula, the source of much of the world's copper from the 1840s until the 1960s, is home to the Arcadian Copper Mine, Delaware Copper Mine, Coppertown USA, and the Victorian town of Callumat. Nearby, the Isle Royale National Park encompasses the largest island in Lake Superior and features a wilderness archipelago 72 km/45 mi long and 14 km/9 mi wide in parts, the North Woods forest, rugged shorelines, historic lighthouses and shipwrecks, and ancient copper-mining sites. Fayette Historic State Park features a restored iron-smelting town (1867–91).

The highest sand dunes outside the Sahara Desert are found at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Saugatuck is an old-fashioned harbour village that has long attracted artists. The Sanilac Petroglyphs in Bad Axe, located on the thumb tip of the Lower Peninsula's mitten, are prehistoric rock drawings etched in sandstone. The sand dunes along Lake Michigan's shoreline contain more than 16,000 sq km/6,000 sq mi of parks, wildlife habitats, and forests.

Michigan's 11,000 lakes range in size from small bodies of water to the largest lake, Houghton. The state also has about 500 islands.

Culture The city of Detroit once dominated the cultural life of Michigan, but much of its cosmopolitan life now extends into the surrounding suburbs. The metropolitan area is home to some of Michigan's most important cultural possessions, including the Detroit Institute of Arts (1885) and the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village at Dearborn. The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, and the Muskegon Museum of Art all own major art collections. The Michigan Historical Museum in Lansing presents the state's history from pre-contact times through the 1970s and is particularly well known for its military and American Indian memorabilia. The SS Keewatin near Saugatuck is a vintage passenger steamboat converted into a maritime museum.

Michigan's population is culturally diverse. The city of Holland celebrates its heritage each spring with the Tulip Time Festival. Major Dutch attractions include Windmill Island's imported Dutch Windmill (dating from 1761), Dutch Village, Veldheer Tulip Gardens, and DeKlomp Wooden Shoe and Delft Factory. The annual Bavarian Festival in Frankenmuth attracts thousands of tourists. Traverse City hosts the National Cherry Festival, while the Interlochen Arts Camp, the world's oldest art camp (1928), is held annually at Interlochen.

Michigan's pubic university system includes the prestigious University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and Michigan State University at East Lansing.

Outdoor life dominates the physical culture. Michigan has developed a thriving tourist industry because of its extensive shoreline, lakes, and rugged northern features. Skiing, swimming, hiking, fishing, and hunting are some of the popular activities. The state's professional sports teams include the Tigers (baseball), Pistons (basketball), Lions (American football), and Red Wings (ice hockey).

GovernmentMichigan's state constitution The first constitution was drafted at the Constitutional Convention of 1835 and ratified by the people later that year. Two subsequent constitutions were ratified in 1850 and 1908. The state constitution was revised in 1964 to streamline procedures and facilitate a more rapid response to economic challenges.

Structure of state government Michigan's legislative powers are vested in a two-chamber full-time legislature, comprising a 38-member Senate, elected to four-year terms, and a 110-member House of Representatives, elected to two-year terms. Population of districts determines representation in the House: representatives are elected from districts with populations of approximately 77,000 to 91,000; senators are elected from districts with populations of approximately 212,000 to 263,500. Michigan sends 14 representatives and two senators to the US Congress and has 16 electoral votes in presidential elections.

Voters elect a governor and lieutenant governor as a team to serve four-year terms, with a two-term limit. Republican Rick Snyder took the governorship in January 2011. A secretary of state and attorney general are also elected to a four-year term. Other appointed statewide officials include the treasurer, auditor general, superintendent of public instruction, and commissioner of insurance. The constitution provides for voter initiatives and referenda. A seven-member supreme court heads the judicial system. Each justice is elected for eight-year terms via popular ballot; one is elected to a two-year term by the court to serve as chief justice. The court of appeals consists of 28 judges elected on a nonpartisan ballot for six-year terms. The state is divided into judicial districts, within which the 57 circuit courts are the courts of general jurisdiction. A statewide system of district courts has replaced justices of the peace and most municipal courts.

The state is divided into 83 counties, each governed by its own board of commissioners. Some towns and cities elect county representatives; others appoint them. Detroit has a mayor and a city council; other cities are governed by city managers.

Economy Early European settlers plied the fur trade by transporting pelts between Great Lakes trading posts and Québec. The furs were exported to Europe, where fur was considered a luxury item. French forts became busy trading centres, exporting animal furs such as beaver, otter, fox, mink, and wolf.

Mining and lumber became the primary state industries during the middle of the 19th century. As the Industrial Revolution took hold, however, the economy of the state became more dependent on the car industry. While at the end of the 20th century the car industry still accounted for one-third of all manufacturing income, the state has continued to expand its manufacturing base to attract high-tech information technology companies and to build its service sector. Other manufactures include electrical machinery, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals. Michigan has coal, oil, and natural gas resources, while iron ore remains its leading non-fuel mineral commodity by production value. Other important resources are salt, stone, sand and gravel, magnesium compounds, and potash.

The state's fertile soil makes it prime agricultural land. Corn and dry beans are its chief vegetables. The state is well known for its fruits, particularly cherries and apples. Christmas trees are also important to the economy.

Tourism in Michigan is thriving, as is the music industry, particularly in the Detroit area.

HistoryIndigenous inhabitants Michigan's first people were the Paleo-Indian nomadic tribes. Their arrival in the area dates back to 11000 BC when, in search of food, they moved north as the glaciers retreated. Around 4000 BC, the Archaic people mined copper along the Upper Peninsula, and by 2500 BC the Woodland culture had developed elaborate crafts and cultivation techniques.

The American Indian culture that existed when European explorers arrived in the 1600s evolved from these early inhabitants, along with tribes that moved from the North American eastern coast. The Chippewa, the Ottawa, and the Potawatomi were the predominant tribes of the territory, sharing the Algonquian language and a common culture and referring to themselves as the ‘Three Fires’.

French exploration and settlement In 1618, the French explorer Etienne Brulé and his team paddled in canoes across Lake Huron and up the St Mary's River until they reached rapids, the present-day Soo Locks near Sault Ste Marie. In 1634, Jean Nicolet was the first European to pass through the Straits of Mackinac. The most famous explorer of the time, Father Jacques Marquette, established the first permanent settlement at Sault Ste Marie in 1668 and another at St Ignace in 1671. During the same year, France proclaimed the sovereignty of King Louis XIV over the area, as part of New France. In 1701, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, a French army officer, convinced Louis XIV that a French settlement at le détroit, the waterway between lakes Saint Clair and Erie, would strengthen France's control over the upper Great Lakes and deter British encroachment in the area. He subsequently built Fort Pontchartrain, which later became known as Detroit. In 1715, Fort Michilimackinac, overlooking the Straits of Mackinac, served as a commercial and military depot. Despite these defences, the French lost the territory to the British during the French and Indian War.

British reign British control of the area created resentment from the American Indian tribes, who preferred the French. Many Americans Indians were forced off their lands as the British moved westward and occupied the territory. In 1763, several tribes united under the leadership of Ottawa Chief Pontiac and attacked British posts from Pennsylvania to Lake Superior, capturing most of them. They kept Detroit under siege for five months but eventually withdrew when the French ceded the territory to the British.

The British, however, failed to hold onto the territory, ceding present-day Michigan to the USA as part of the Treaty of Paris which ended the American Revolution in 1783. Under the terms of the agreement, a boundary between the USA and Canada was drawn through the middle of the Great Lakes and connecting bodies of water, with the exception of Isle Royale which was awarded to the USA. The British remained in Detroit and Fort Mackinac until the end of the 18th century. The War of 1812 saw more fighting in Michigan, when the two countries fought for possession of Detroit and Fort Mackinac. The territory was restored to the USA under the terms of the Treaty of Ghent (1814).

Political and economic development After the British ceded the territory, Michigan, then known as Wayne County, became part of the Northwest Territory. Settlement gained momentum after the Erie Canal (1825) facilitated westward movement on the Great Lakes. In the 1830s many New Englanders arrived, followed by Europeans, among them Germans, Dutch, Scandinavians, and Irish.

By 1834, Michigan's population reached the minimum (60,000) required for statehood. Its request for statehood was delayed by the Toledo War of 1835 and 1836, fought with bordering Ohio residents, in which both states claimed ownership of land around Toledo. Michigan was granted statehood the following year. An Upper Peninsula copper boom (1840s), the growth of the lumber industry, and the opening (1855) of canals at Sault Ste Marie fostered further economic development.

Michigan played an active role for the North in the American Civil War. Many fugitives from the Underground Railroad were harboured there while awaiting freedom in neighbouring Canada. Michigan moved from an agricultural society to an industrial state following the Civil War, upping its manufacturing output by 300% by 1880.

20th-century history The most important single development in Michigan's economic fortune was Henry Ford's establishment of the moving assembly line in 1913–14. This revolutionary process made Detroit the motor-vehicle production capital of the world. Since then the state's fortunes have been closely tied to the fortunes of the motor industry, prospering in the 1920s, 1940s, and 1950s, but badly damaged by the Great Depression of the 1930s and competition from lower-cost manufacturers in Japan and the South since the 1970s.

The state faced several crises in the 1970s and 1980s, with race riots destroying parts of Detroit, crime on the increase, and desegregation in schools bitterly enforced. In 1973, widespread contamination was caused by the inadvertent mixing of PBB (polybrominated biphenyl), a flame-retardant chemical, with livestock feed. In the 1990s, fiscal reforms were introduced that turned the state budget round from a US$2 million deficit to a $1 billion surplus.

21st century The state was hit again by recession in the early years of the century, and in July 2013 the city of Detroit formally filed for bankruptcy protection, becoming the largest municipal collapse in US financial history.

Politically, Democrats have held the upper hand in state politics since the 1930s. In 2003 the state elected its first female governor, the Democrat Jennifer Granholm.

Famous peoplesport George Gipper (1895–1920), American football player; Joe Louis (1914–1981), boxer; Sugar Ray Robinson (1920–1989), boxer; Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson (1959– ), basketball player

the arts Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874–1939), impressionist painter; Ring Lardner (1885–1933), short-story writer; M F K Fisher (1908–1992), food writer; Theodore Roethke (1908–1963), poet; Charlton Heston (1924–2008), actor; Bill Haley (1925–1981), musician; Philip Levine (1928– ), poet; Berry Gordy (1929– ), record producer; Ellen Burstyn (1932– ), actor; Francis Ford Coppola (1939– ), film director; Diana Ross (1944– ), singer; David Small (1944– ) illustrator; Tom Selleck (1945– ) actor; Stevie Wonder (1950– ), singer and songwriter; Terry McMillan (1951– ), novelist and editor; Madonna (1958– ), pop singer;

science Charles Lindbergh (1902–1974), aviator; Glenn Seaborg (1912–1999), Nobel Prize-winning chemist; Claude Shannon (1916–2001), mathematician

society and education Bertha Van Hoosen (1863–1952), cofounder of American Medical Women's Association

economics Henry Ford (1863–1947), car manufacturer; William E Boeing (1881–1956), aircraft company founder; W K Kellogg (1860–1951), food products manufacturer

politics and law Chief Pontiac (c. 1720–1769), Ottawa leader; Ralph Bunche (1904–1971), Nobel Prize-winning diplomat; Gerald Ford (1913–2006), 38th US president.

images

Michigan – flag

© RM, 2016. All rights reserved.

Related Credo Articles

Full text Article MICHIGAN
France and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History

Since the time of European arrival in the region, Michigan and the Great Lakes have been governed by three successive powers including France,...

Full text Article MICHIGAN
Ireland and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History

In the early 1700s, Irish immigrants arrived on the peninsulas that now make up the state of Michigan, initiating three centuries of...

Full text Article Michigan
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

A state in the N central USA, bordered largely by water (Lakes Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie, and St Clair). It is divided by the Straits...

See more from Credo