Michigan history

Screenshot/Chrysler

The Next Idea

In 2009, the headline of a Time magazine cover story read “The Tragedy of Detroit” with a shadowy photo of a blighted factory in the background. The national press was brutal.

Fruehauf Trailer Historical Society

The name “Fruehauf” is an iconic one in American transportation history. 

It was 1914 when a Detroit blacksmith named August Fruehauf came up with a creative way to help lumber barons haul even more lumber and make even more money.

The result became the semi-trailer. Its descendants can be seen to this day, rumbling across the highways of the world.

Ruth Ann Fruehauf is August’s granddaughter.

The press arrives to grab images of the Giant Tire.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

When we heard that the Automotive Press Association was holding an event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Giant Uniroyal Tire along 1-94, we couldn’t resist.

Not only because, well, it’s the GIANT TIRE – who wouldn’t want to see inside of it?! – but also because it gave us a chance to look into a question put to our M I Curious page.

The Michigan meridian is clearly visible in the map of Native American land cessions in Michigan.
wikimedia commons

This month marks the 200th birthday of something that helped make Michigan the state we know today.

It's the bicentennial of the Michigan meridian.

That north-south line was the reference point for the Michigan Survey. Every single piece of property in Michigan is defined by that meridian and two east-west baselines.

Wikimedia Commons / Wikimedia Commons

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most devastating weather events in Michigan history: the Palm Sunday tornado outbreak.

It happened with virtually no warning on April 11, 1965. Killer tornadoes smashed through the Midwest over a 12-hour span, killing 271. Michigan was one of the hardest-hit states with 53 deaths.

The U.S. National Archives on Flickr / Flickr

Patricia Majher's book Great Girls in Michigan History profiles 20 girls in Michigan who accomplished great feats before the age of 20.

Majher says while the girls were from all over the state with different areas of expertise, they all shared some personality traits. She describes them as precocious, self-driven, and not allowing obstacles to stand in their way.

The book includes stories of Betty Ford's dedication to dance at a young age. Ford founded her own dance studio in Grand Rapids at the age of 15, where she taught little girls and their mothers too.  Her career eventually led her to dance at Carnegie Hall.

Flickr user Chris Smith / Flickr

The Detroit Public Library turns 150 years old this week and will be celebrating Wednesday with an event that includes architectural tours of the historic main branch. The 1921 building is an architectural wonder, and is the fourth-largest library in the nation, with more than 7 million books.

Flickr user Julie Weatherbee / Flickr

There's a lot of attention and talk directed at start-ups about attracting new business to Michigan.

But writer Ilene Wolff pays tribute to some venerable long-time Michigan businesses. Her story, The Century Club: Michigan firms and businesses that have truly withstood the test of time, is in the current March/April print edition of DBusiness.

Flickr user Marion Doss / Flickr

One of the oldest structures in Detroit is being moved. The house, built in 1837, is the former home of Ulysses S. Grant.

Grant's residency in Detroit began when he was a young army officer when he was fresh out of West Point and transferred to the Detroit Barracks, according to Dan Austin of the Detroit Free Press and HistoricDetriot.org.

Bill Haney has spent many years in communications and book publishing in Michigan. 

His new memoir What They Were Thinking: Reflections of Michigan Difference-Makers tells the stories of the many special Michiganders he's come to know throughout the years.

The book includes profiles of 18 Michigan men and women, including the legendary sportscaster for the Detroit Tigers Ernie Harwell.

Wikimedia Commons

February 7th marks the 130th birthday of the American writer Sinclair Lewis, whose 1925 Pulitzer-prize winning novel Arrowsmith was the first novel to focus on the life of a medical scientist.

University of Michigan physician and medical historian Dr. Howard Markel says it's a wonderful historical analysis of everything that is great and problematic with American medicine.

Flickr user Joel Dinda / Flickr

Ghost towns don't only belong to the Old West. You can find them scattered all over Michigan, including Glen Haven, located in the Leelanau Peninsula right inside the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Marie Scott is a park ranger in the area. She says the town began before the civil war as a stop for steamers to pick up wood for fuel. As the traffic picked up, it grew from only a dock to a fully functioning town.

Alden Jewell / Flickr

Got milk? Well, back in the day, milk trucks drove door-to-door delivering the all important staple to your home.

Twin Pines, Sealtest, Borden’s, Washtenaw Dairy and Guernsey Farm are just a few of the companies that sent hardy little delivery trucks out every day, serving up home delivery of milk, cream, eggs and cheese.

grosse point lighthouse
Flickr user Teemu008 / flickr

West Michigan historian Larry B. Massie's book Blue Water, Red Metal & Green Gold: The Color of Michigan's Past includes 27 colorful human interest stories from Michigan's past, ranging from the 1800s to the 1950s

It is the 12th in his series Voyages into Michigan's Past, and his 21st book.

Priscilla and Larry Massie

If you're dashing around trying to take care of your holiday to-do list, it might be time to think back and remember a time in Michigan when a bowl of oyster stew was your Christmas dinner and a $1.75 pair of gloves took care of your Christmas gift for the wife!

Curwood reviewing his film, The Flaming Forest
Mitchell Speers

  Author, filmmaker, and conservationalist James Oliver Curwood was a Michigan native in the late 1800s whose stories gained popularity all over the world. When he died in 1927, he was said to be the highest-paid per-word author in the world, with much of his passion for writing about nature coming from a close encounter with a grizzly bear.

We talked to filmmaker and historian Mitchell Speers, who explores Curwood's life and works in an upcoming documentary, God's Country: The James Oliver Curwood Story.

Toledo, Ohio
OZinOH / Flickr

This weekend's Michigan-Ohio State game not only focuses attention on one of the longest, deepest rivalries in college sports, it also reminds us that Michigan and Ohio have been at loggerheads for the better part of 200 years.

Internet Archive Book Images / Flickr

Sometimes it’s a persistent annoyance that leads to a great solution. In this case the annoyance was cleaning up sawdust. It led to the creation of one of the most enduring ‘Made in Michigan’ brand names: Bissell. If you’ve ever shampooed or vacuumed your carpet with a Bissell machine, you can thank sawdust back in 1876. Mark Bissell is CEO of the Grand Rapids based company that bears his name.

People will be watching their old home movies, all over the world, on "Home Movie Day." The big event happens Saturday, October 18th. Organizers call it "an annual, worldwide celebration of amateur films."

winslowsix / Flickr

189 years ago this month, the Erie Canal opened.

That connection between the Hudson River in New York and Lake Erie became extremely important to Michigan, which at the time of its construction was on the road to statehood.

Dan Ward is curator of the Erie Canal Museum. He says the Erie Canal was incredibly influential on the history of Michigan. “Prior to the Erie Canal, in order to get to Michigan, you had to go over a mountain range,” Ward says. The canal allowed settlers to travel to Michigan much more easily and quickly than a journey over land.

An original Raggedy Ann doll.
User: Muskegon Heritage Museum

If there's been a little girl in your life at any point, chances are pretty good that Raggedy Ann made her way into your home.

The cloth doll with the yarn hair and the candy-cane-striped stockings has been a part of America's toy scene for a century.

Raggedy Ann has some very strong roots in West Michigan.

Anne Dake is a curator at the Muskegon Heritage Museum. She says almost 90,000 Raggedy Ann dolls were handmade in Muskegon from 1918 to 1926.

According to Dake, the story of Raggedy Ann began when cartoonist Johnny Gruelle's daughter found a red doll at her grandmother's house. They painted her a new face, and Gruelle's daughter named it "Raggedy Ann."

"Her iconic smile, her joy ... Every time you see one, you can't help but smile and be happy," says Dake.

* Listen to our conversation with Anne Dake.

mconnors / morgueFile

Is there anyone who hasn't scanned the radio dial on a long road trip and endured noisy static,  angry talk shows, and music that disappoints  in a desperate search for a classic rock station?

But who knew the classic rock concept was born in Michigan almost 30 years ago?

Fred Jacobs, an Oakland County-based radio consultant, was part of that birth in 1985. He said WMMQ in Charlotte, Michigan, was the first classic rock station, and the format quickly spread across the country.

Jacobs said he was inspired by complaints from listeners who couldn't find the music they had grown up with and loved. 

Jacobs said classic rock is not the same as "golden oldies." It is about the golden age of rock – music people will still be listening to in 100 years. 

Jacobs said classic rock started with music from the 60s and 70s and musicians like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and Eric Clapton. 

But he said it's all about the music of your youth that you never get tired of hearing.  And as generations move on, classic rock has added 80s and even more recent music to its roster.

The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 2000.
Joshua Schwimmer / Flickr

The state of Michigan owns public parks, roads, buildings, and even some historic artifacts. Among those artifacts are the original architectural drawings of the World Trade Center.

This is a story of how the state of Michigan – its taxpayers – came to own the works.

Thousands of people visit the 9-11 Memorial in New York every day.

Children play by the fountain that surrounds the footprint of what once were the world’s tallest buildings. Some people take the time to read at least some of the names of the people who died here on 9-11.

User: Mackinac Island - Mackinac.com / facebook

You just never know what that summer job during college might do. It just might affect the course of your life and send you down a path you'd never expect.

Dennis Cawthorne's summer job in 1960 found him on Mackinac Island. He was a kid who was standing on the street and enticing tourists onto horse-drawn tour wagons and taxis.

That humble summer job led to some 50 years of living and working on Mackinac Island for Cawthorne. He has been a lawyer, a state legislator, the chairman of the Mackinac Island State Park Commission and much more.

Detroit Drunken Historical Society's recent meet-up explored the Belle Isle history
User: UpNorth Memories - Donald (Don) Harrison / Flickr

Some organizations these days are having a hard time getting new people involved. Classical music groups have been struggling to appeal to new fans. And plenty of arts and culture groups have a tough time attracting members.

It turns out, historical societies are also having a tough time. And that’s something that Michigan Radio’s Kyle Norris has been looking into.

Norris says the problem is that these societies tend to be older, and getting new blood is not going so well in general.

But that’s not an issue for Amy Elliott Bragg, a co-organizer for the Detroit Drunken Historical Society.

It's a meet-up group that hosts monthly activities at local bars in Detroit for people to come out and learn about history. Bragg says there's no commitment, the gatherings are easy to attend, and all are welcome.

“We have found that there are people who might not be immersed in the library in their historic text all night, but they enjoy history, they are interested in it. They want to weigh in,” says Bragg.

* Listen to the interview with Amy Elliott Bragg above.

Metro Detroit Ethnic Communities Collection/Walter P. Reuther Library

There’s a joke that historical organizations are stuck in the past when it comes to how they do things. You know, like they don’t have a grasp on using social media, and their museums and events are outdated and uninspiring.

And that joke might extend to the people who run historical organizations – many of whom are senior citizens and have often run their group in the same way for a long time.

Fort Mackinac during the War of 1812
User: PhilFree / Wikimedia Commons

The War of 1812 is famous for the Star Spangled Banner, Admiral Perry’s "We have met the enemy and they are ours.” But, really, not a lot of people know much about that war. Michigan and the Great Lakes were key battle sites between the fledgling United States and the British. The River Raisin near Monroe, Michigan was site of a major battle.

And August 4th marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Mackinac Island.

Craig Wilson is the Museum Historian for the Mackinac State Historic Parks. He joined us to talk about why Mackinac was an important strategic site worth fighting for during the war.

Detroit Historical Society

Detroit turns 313 years old next week. The Detroit Historical Society is celebrating with a week's worth of programming beginning tomorrow. 

July 24th marks the day when the French explorer Antoine Cadillac landed on what would later become the city of Detroit.

Each day the group will host a different event- including storytelling, a classic car show, and film screenings.

Bob Sadler is with the Detroit Historical Society. He said celebrating the city is especially important now.

"And based on Detroit’s history of being a hard-working, very creative and entrepreneurial town, I have every reason to believe that we’re reinventing ourselves again," said Sadler. 

Some of the events include: Arsenal of Democracy, Detroit is America’s Motor City, The Streets of Old Detroit, and one of the newer exhibits, the Gallery of Innovation. 

The Detroit Historical Museum is in Midtown Detroit. All of the week's events are free.

– Reem Nasr, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Wikimedia Commons

When you think of the Underground Railroad, one name you may not recognize is Laura Smith Haviland.

She helped many slaves escape from the South to freedom, and she was from Michigan.

Michigan was a crucial stop on the Underground Railroad.

Before and during the Civil War, many Michiganders helped slaves escape to freedom in Canada by crossing the border in Port Huron or Detroit.

In 1832, Laura Haviland co-founded the Logan Female Anti-Slavery Society and the Raisin Institute, which became a safe space for African American fugitives of slavery and attracted black settlers in Michigan.

In the 1840s and 1850s, Haviland traveled between Michigan, Ohio, and Canada assisting slaves in escapes, teaching African American students, and making public anti-slavery speeches.

Southern slave owners had a $3,000 reward for her capture.

Tiya Miles is chair of the Department of African-American Studies at the University of Michigan and will be a keynote speaker at the National Underground Railroad Conference being held in Detroit this week.

“Laura Haviland was an incredible woman, and she is someone who faced daunting challenges that you and I - I don’t think, could ever imagine,” Miles said.

Miles said that women were not expected to be independent and involved in political issues at this time. There was a lot of criticism of her from her fellow abolitionists. She was seen as someone who outright rejected the conservative gender roles.

The National Parks Service is hosting its annual conference on the Underground Railroad in Detroit from July 16 to July 20. The theme is "Women and the Underground Railroad."

*Listen to the full interview above

Michigan Historical Center

A $1 million grant is going to the Michigan History Foundation.

It's from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and will help the Michigan Historical Museum revamp its 25-year-old exhibits.

But the grant is also meant to focus on racial equity. The money will be used for the museum's "Sharing Michigan's Untold Stories" project. Some of that will include stories of the indigenous tribes who where here before the Europeans came. 

Sandra Clark directs the Michigan Historical Center. She is working to incorporate diverse stories and voices into the museum.

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