The Primary States: Michigan
by findingDulcinea Staff
Native American stronghold, French fur-trapping territory, and birthplace of the automotive assembly line: the twin peninsulas of Michigan are now tourist magnets and high-tech hub, with a population divided along economic and political lines. But change—and divisiveness—is nothing new to the U.S.’s fourth most populous state.
Michigan ignited the consumer-driven, post-World War II economic boom. When the troops marched home, many people feared the U.S. would relapse into the economic depression that had persisted throughout the 1930s. But in Detroit, Henry Ford’s assembly lines turned out automobiles for national and global consumption, and the U.S. maintained economic dominance in the world for more than a generation. Beginning in the 1970s, however, manufacturing jobs moved to cheaper southern states, and more recently, to developing nations. Outsourcing has led to recession and a population of unskilled, unemployed workers in Michigan, though technology and other industries promise a rebound. As a primary election state, its political tendencies are watched closely. Michigan cannot be counted on as being either blue or red.
Hugged by four of the Great Lakes, as well as Lake St. Clair, Michigan boasts the longest freshwater shoreline of any state or country on the globe. (The understated state motto, translated from the Latin, is: “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.”) Despite inclement winters, the state anchors nearly as many boats on its shores as the temperate, coastal states of Florida and California. Michiganders flock to national parks and islands in lakes Erie, Huron, Michigan, and Superior. Hunters roam through wooded areas in forests that cover half the 100,000-square-mile state. Local photographers have captured the lakes, beaches, and forests of Michigan in this blog.
All that outdoor activity is bound to whip up a thirst. And with one-fifth of the population claiming German ancestry, it’s beer that often does the trick. Though modern breweries have seen turbulent times, the barley-based tipple could easily be the official state drink. Michigan’s first brewery fired up in Detroit in 1836. Within a few decades the city became a major national brewing center. During Prohibition, Michiganders took to the streets to rally for their beer-drinking rights. A photo of Detroiters heralding the end of Prohibition in 1933, along with a brief history of beer in Michigan, can be found here.
Though Lansing is the capital, it’s Detroit that steals headlines, whether about urban decay or Eminem. Recently, the headlines spread word of an increase in renovations and upscale developments in its city center and famed waterfront, activity that’s revitalizing downtown. In suburban Detroit, the beloved Henry Ford Museum draws visitors for its national treasures. Its “With Liberty and Justice for All” exhibit houses rare Americana such as the Rosa Parks bus, President Kennedy’s Dallas limousine, Thomas Edison’s lab, and President Lincoln’s chair from Ford’s Theater. Henry Ford (a native Michigander who died in 1947 at the age of 83 with 161 patents to his name), invented the Model-T automobile, perfected the assembly line used in mass production, and revolutionized the way all of us get from point A to B.
If Ford’s achievements seem impressive, the University of Michigan impresses even more; it’s one of the country’s great public research universities, sometimes called the “Harvard of the West.” More than 40,000 national and international students roam its grounds and undertake more than 600 academic programs. The school has a history of activism; it was the focus of affirmative-action legislation. President Kennedy, in a 1960 campaign speech unveiled his vision for the Peace Corps on the Ann Arbor campus. A Harvard graduate, Kennedy told the crowd that he was an alumni of the “Michigan of the East.” Three weeks later, Kennedy took Michigan in the presidential election.