The French word for "strait" (détroit) was how it all started in 1701.
A French explorer founded Fort Pontchartrain on the "straits" - the water between Lake Huron and Lake Erie - on July 24, 1701.
It didn't become incorporated as a city until 1806, and the city grew from there.
This population graph shows the timing of the rise and decline of the city:
Their interactive site shows the typical pictures of ruin, but the revival pictures are especially fun to scroll through.
You can see them here.
Happy Birthday, Detroit!