Detroit is the most populous city in the U.S. state of Michigan and the largest city on the United States–Canada border. It is the seat of Wayne County, the most populous county in the state. It is a primary business, cultural, financial and transportation center in the Metro Detroit area, a region of 5.2 million people. It is a major port on the Detroit River, a strait that connects the Great Lakes system to the Saint Lawrence Seaway. It was founded on July 24, 1701, by the French explorer and adventurer Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac and a party of settlers.
The Detroit area emerged as a significant metropolitan region within the United States in the early Twentieth Century, and this trend only hastened in the 1950s and 1960s, with the construction of a regional freeway system. Detroit is the center of a three-county Urban Area (population 3,734,090, area of , a 2010 United States Census) six-county Metropolitan Statistical Area (2010 Census population of 4,296,250, area of ), and a nine-county Combined Statistical Area (2010 Census population of 5,218,852, area of ). The Detroit–Windsor area, a commercial link straddling the Canada–U.S. border, has a total population of about 5,700,000. The Detroit metropolitan region holds roughly one-half of Michigan's population.
Known as the world's automotive center, "Detroit" is a metonym for the American automobile industry. Detroit's auto industry was an important element of the American "Arsenal of Democracy" supporting the Allied powers during World War II. It is an important source of popular music legacies celebrated by the city's two familiar nicknames, the Motor City and Motown. Other nicknames arose in the 20th century, including City of Champions, beginning in the 1930s for its successes in individual and team sport; The D; Hockeytown (a trademark owned by the city's NHL club, the Red Wings); Rock City (after the Kiss song "Detroit Rock City"); and The 313 (its telephone area code).
Between 2000 and 2010 the city's population fell by 25 percent, changing its ranking from the nation's 10th-largest city to 18th. In 2010, the city had a population of 713,777, more than a 60 percent drop from a peak population of over 1.8 million at the 1950 census. This resulted from suburbanization, industrial restructuring and the decline of Detroit's economic strength. Following the shift of population and jobs to its suburbs or other states or nations, the city focused on reestablishing itself as the metropolitan region's employment and economic center. Downtown Detroit has held an increased role as an entertainment destination in the 21st century, with the restoration of several historic theatres, several new sports stadiums, three new stadiums, and a riverfront revitalization project. More recently, the population of Downtown Detroit, Midtown Detroit, and a handful of other neighborhoods has increased. Many other neighborhoods remain distressed and even heavily abandoned.
The Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, declared a financial emergency for the city in March 2013, appointing an emergency manager. On July 18, 2013, Detroit filed the largest municipal bankruptcy case in U.S. history. It was declared bankrupt by Judge Steven W. Rhodes of the Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on December 3, 2013; he cited its $18.5 billion debt and declared that negotiations with its thousands of creditors were unfeasible. On November 7, 2014, Judge Rhodes approved the city's bankruptcy plan, allowing the city to begin the process of exiting bankruptcy. The City of Detroit successfully left Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy with all finances handed back to Detroit beginning at midnight on December 11, 2014.
The city was named by French colonists, referring to the Detroit River (meaning the strait of Lake Erie), linking Lake Huron and Lake Erie; in the historical context, the strait included the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River.
On the shores of the strait, in 1701, the French officer Antoine de La Mothe Cadillac, along with fifty-one French people and French-Canadians, founded a settlement called Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit, naming it after the comte de Pontchartrain, Minister of Marine under Louis XIV. France offered free land to colonists to attract families to Detroit; when it reached a total population of 800 in 1765, it was the largest city between Montreal and New Orleans, both French settlements. By 1773, the population of Detroit was 1,400. By 1778, its population was up to 2,144 and it was the third-largest city in the Province of Quebec.
During the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the North American front of the Seven Years' War between Britain and France, British troops gained control of the settlement in 1760. They shortened the name to Detroit. Several Native American tribes launched Pontiac's Rebellion (1763), and conducted a siege of Fort Detroit, but failed to capture it. France ceded its territory in North America east of the Mississippi to Britain following the war.
Following the American Revolutionary War, Britain ceded Detroit along with other territory in the area to the United States under the Jay Treaty (1796), which established the northern border with Canada. In 1805, fire destroyed most of the settlement, which buildings were mostly wood. A river warehouse and brick chimneys of the former wooden homes were the sole structures to survive.
From 1805 to 1847, Detroit was the capital of Michigan. Detroit surrendered without a fight to British troops during the War of 1812 in the Siege of Detroit. The Battle of Frenchtown (January 18–23, 1813) was part of a United States effort to retake the city, and American troops suffered their highest fatalities of any battle in the war. This battle is commemorated at River Raisin National Battlefield Park south of Detroit in Monroe County. Detroit was finally recaptured by the United States later that year.
Prior to the American Civil War, the city's access to the Canadian border made it a key stop for refugee slaves gaining freedom in the North along the Underground Railroad. Many went across the Detroit River to Canada to escape pursuit by slave catchers. There were estimated to be 20,000 to 30,000 African-American refugees who settled in Canada.
Numerous men from Detroit volunteered to fight for the Union 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 the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. When the First Volunteer Infantry Regiment arrived to fortify Washington, DC, President Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying "Thank God for Michigan!" George Armstrong Custer led the Michigan Brigade during the Civil War and called them the "Wolverines".
During the late 19th century, several Gilded Age mansions reflecting the wealth of industry and shipping magnates were built east and west of the current downtown, along the major avenues of the Woodward plan. Most notable among them was the David Whitney House located at 4421 Woodward Avenue, which became a prime location for mansions. During this period some referred to Detroit as the Paris of the West for its architecture, grand avenues in the Paris style, and for Washington Boulevard, recently electrified by Thomas Edison. The city had grown steadily from the 1830s with the rise of shipping, shipbuilding, and manufacturing industries. Strategically located along the Great Lakes waterway, Detroit emerged as a major port and transportation hub.
In 1896, a thriving carriage trade prompted Henry Ford to build his first automobile in a rented workshop on Mack Avenue. During this growth period, Detroit expanded its borders by annexing all or part of several surrounding villages and townships.
In 1903, Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company. Ford's manufacturing—and those of automotive pioneers William C. Durant, the Dodge brothers, Packard, and Walter Chrysler—established Detroit's status in the early 20th century as the world's automotive capital. The proliferation of businesses created a synergy that also encouraged truck manufacturers such as Rapid and Grabowsky. The growth of the auto industry was reflected by changes in businesses throughout the Midwest and nation, with the development of garages to service vehicles and gas stations, as well as factories for parts and tires.
With the rapid growth of industrial workers in the auto factories, labor unions such as the American Federation of Labor and the United Auto Workers fought to organize workers to gain them better working conditions and wages. They initiated strikes and other tactics in support of improvements such as the 8-hour day/40-hour work week, healthcare benefits, pensions, increased wages and improved working conditions. 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 prohibition of alcohol from 1920 to 1933 resulted in the Detroit River becoming a major conduit for smuggling of illegal Canadian spirits, organized in large part by the notorious Purple Gang, dominated by Jewish immigrants. There was also extensive smuggling across the St. Clair River north of the city.
Detroit, like many places in the United States, developed racial conflict and discrimination in the 20th century following rapid demographic changes as hundreds of thousands of new workers were attracted to the industrial city; in a short period it became the 4th-largest city in the nation. The Great Migration brought rural blacks from the South; whites also migrated to the city; and immigration brought southern and eastern Europeans; both competed with native whites for jobs and housing in the booming city. Detroit was one of the major Midwest cities that was a site for the dramatic urban revival of the Ku Klux Klan beginning in 1915. "By the 1920s the city had become a stronghold of the KKK," whose members opposed Catholic and Jewish immigrants, as well as black Americans. Strained racial relations were evident at the 1925 trial of Dr. Ossian Sweet, an African-American Detroit physician, his wife, and other family members who were acquitted of murder. They had defended themselves when a white mob gathered to try to force him and his family out of a predominantly white neighborhood. The Black Legion also was active in the Detroit area.
In the 1940s the world's "first urban depressed freeway" ever built, the Davison, was constructed in Detroit. During World War II, the government encouraged retooling of the American automobile industry in support of the Allied powers, leading to Detroit's key role in the American Arsenal of Democracy. Six ships of the United States Navy have been named after the city, including USS Detroit (LCS-7).
Social tensions had accompanied the rapid pace of growth and competition among ethnic groups; racism developed among some European immigrants and their descendants who were competing in the working class. On January 20, 1942, with a cross burning nearby (a sign of the KKK, but this organization had declined markedly since 1925), 1,200 whites tried to prevent black families from moving into a new housing development in an all-white area of the city. In June 1943, Packard promoted three blacks to work next to whites on its assembly lines. In response, 25,000 whites walked off the job, effectively slowing down critical war production. During the protest, a voice with a southern accent shouted in the loudspeaker, "I'd rather see Hitler and Hirohito win than work next to a nigger." The Detroit Race Riot of 1943 took place three weeks after the Packard plant protest. Over the course of three days, 34 people were killed, of whom 25 were African American, and approximately 600 were injured.
Industrial mergers in the 1950s, especially in the automobile sector, increased oligopoly in the American auto industry. Detroit manufacturers such as Packard and Hudson merged into other companies and eventually disappeared.
As in other major American cities in the postwar era, construction of an extensive highway and freeway system around Detroit and pent-up demand for new housing stimulated suburbanization; the GI Bill helped veterans buy new homes and highways made commuting by car easier. In 1956, Detroit's last heavily used electric streetcar line along the length of Woodward Avenue was ripped out and replaced with gas-powered buses. It was the last line of what had once been a 534 miles network of electric streetcars, which had once served outlying cities as well. In 1941 at peak times, a streetcar ran on Woodward Avenue every 60 seconds.
All of these changes in the area's transportation system favored low density, auto-oriented development rather than high-density urban development. These were factors that contributed to the metro Detroit area becoming the most sprawling job market in the United States, though other major American cities also developed suburbanization. The expansion of jobs and lack of public transportation put many jobs beyond the reach of lower income workers who remained in the city.
In 1950, before the area shut down its last electric streetcar lines, the city held about one-third of the state's population. Over the next sixty years and related outlying development, the city's population declined to less than 10 percent of the state's population. During the same time period, the sprawling Detroit metropolitan area, which surrounds and includes the city, grew to contain more than half of Michigan's population. Commensurate with the shift of population and jobs to suburbs and other American cities, Detroit's tax base eroded.
In June 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a major speech in Detroit that foreshadowed his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C. two months later. While the African-American Civil Rights Movement gained significant federal civil rights laws in 1964 and 1965, longstanding inequities resulted in confrontations between the police and inner city black youth wanting change, culminating in the Twelfth Street riot in July 1967. Governor George W. Romney ordered the Michigan National Guard into Detroit, and President Johnson sent in U.S. Army troops. The result was 43 dead, 467 injured, over 7,200 arrests, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed, mostly in black residential and business areas. Thousands of small businesses closed permanently or relocated to safer neighborhoods. The affected district lay in ruins for decades.
On August 18, 1970, the NAACP filed suit against Michigan state officials, including Governor William Milliken, for de facto school segregation. The trial began April 6, 1971, and lasted 41 days. The NAACP argued that although schools were not legally segregated, the city of Detroit and its surrounding counties had enacted policies to maintain racial segregation in public schools. The NAACP also suggested a direct relationship between unfair housing practices (such as redlining of certain neighborhoods) and educational segregation.
District Judge Steven J. Roth held all levels of government accountable for the segregation in his ruling on Milliken v. Bradley. The Sixth Circuit Court affirmed some of the decision, withholding judgment on the relationship of housing inequality with education. The court specified that it was the state's responsibility to integrate across the segregated metropolitan area.
The governor and other accused officials appealed the decision to the US Supreme Court, which took up the case February 27, 1974. The subsequent Milliken v. Bradley decision had wide national influence. According to Gary Orfield and Susan E. Eaton in their 1996 book Dismantling Desegregation, the "Supreme Court's failure to examine the housing underpinnings of metropolitan segregation" in Milliken made desegregation "almost impossible" in northern metropolitan areas. "Suburbs were protected from desegregation by the courts ignoring the origin of their racially segregated housing patterns." "Milliken was perhaps the greatest missed opportunity of that period," said Myron Orfield, professor of law and director of the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota. "Had that gone the other way, it would have opened the door to fixing nearly all of Detroit's current problems."
John Mogk, a professor of law and an expert in urban planning at Wayne State University in Detroit, says, "Everybody thinks that it was the riots [in 1967] that caused the white families to leave. Some people were leaving at that time but, really, it was after Milliken that you saw mass flight to the suburbs. If the case had gone the other way, it is likely that Detroit would not have experienced the steep decline in its tax base that has occurred since then."
Supreme Justice William O. Douglas' dissenting opinion in Miliken held that
"there is, so far as the school cases go, no constitutional difference between de facto and de jure segregation. Each school board performs state action for Fourteenth Amendment purposes when it draws the lines that confine it to a given area, when it builds schools at particular sites, or when it allocates students. The creation of the school districts in Metropolitan Detroit either maintained existing segregation or caused additional segregation. Restrictive covenants maintained by state action or inaction build black ghettos ... the task of equity is to provide a unitary system for the affected area where, as here, the State washes its hands of its own creations."
The gasoline crises of 1973 and 1979 also affected Detroit and the U.S. auto industry. Smaller more fuel-efficient cars made by foreign makers were purchased by many consumers as the price of gas rose.
In 1974, the city elected Coleman A. Young as its first black mayor. Public and private interests worked to redevelop the city center and aging infrastructure to compete with suburban models. The Renaissance Center, a business and retail complex, was constructed in the late 1970s. This group of skyscrapers, designed as a city within a city, together with other developments, held some businesses in Downtown Detroit. The project has been criticized on urban design terms for cutting itself off from the larger city and reducing urban interaction. More related development took place by the late 1990s.
In the 1990s, additional developments were constructed in the Downtown, Midtown and New Center areas. One Detroit Center (1993) became the tallest on the city skyline. New downtown stadiums were constructed for the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions in 2000 and 2002, respectively. The Lions' home stadium was returned to the city proper for the first time since 1974. Three large casinos have opened: MGM Grand Detroit, Motor City Casino and Greektown Casino, which debuted as resort hotels in 2007–08. The historic Book Cadillac Hotel and the Fort Shelby Hotel were renovated and reopened for business for the first time in more than 20 years.
The city hosted the 2005 MLB All-Star Game, 2006 Super Bowl XL, 2006 and 2012 World Series, WrestleMania 23 in 2007, and the NCAA Final Four in April 2009. To prepare for these events, the city undertook 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 has been the focus of redevelopment for renewed engagement with the river, following successful examples of other older industrial cities, including Windsor, Canada, which began its waterfront parkland conversion in the 1990s. In 2001, the first portion (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, miles of parks and associated fountains and landscaping were completed. 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 as a destination for tourism, including visits by suburban residents.
Long a major population center and major engine of worldwide automobile manufacturing, Detroit has gone through a long economic decline produced by numerous factors. Like many industrial American cities, Detroit reached its population peak in the 1950 census. The peak population was 1.8 million people. Following suburbanization, industrial restructuring and loss of jobs (as described above), by the 2010 census, the city had less than 40 percent of that number at just over 700,000 residents. The city has declined in population with each subsequent census since 1950.
Frank J. Popper, a professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy of Rutgers University and the Princeton Environmental Institute at Princeton University compares the Great Plains decline with Detroit's. During the 20th century many rural counties have seen the same or higher population declines than Detroit. Popper says the Great Plains is experiencing rural decline while Detroit is the foremost example of urban decline. For Detroit he suggests that the city try to concentrate existing population to stimulate development and provide better city services, with land banking of neighborhoods evaluated as unsalvageable in the near term.
The decline has resulted in severe urban decay and thousands of empty homes, apartment buildings and commercial buildings around the city. Some parts of Detroit are so sparsely populated that the city has difficulty providing municipal services. The city has sought and considered various solutions such as demolition of abandoned homes and buildings; removal of street lighting from large portions of the city; and encouraging the small population in certain areas to move to more populated locations. It advises them that the city cannot provide as quick response for city services such as police in depopulated areas.
More than half of the owners of Detroit's 305,000 properties failed to pay their 2011 tax bills, exacerbating the city's financial crisis. According to the Detroit News, 47 percent of the city's taxable parcels are delinquent on their 2011 tax bills, resulting in about $246 million in taxes and fees going uncollected, nearly half of which was due to Detroit. The rest of the money would have been earmarked for Wayne County, Detroit Public Schools and the library system. The review also found 77 blocks in Detroit had only one owner who paid taxes in 2011.
High unemployment was compounded by middle-class flight to the suburbs and some residents leaving the state to find work. This left the city with a higher poor population, reduced tax base, depressed property values, abandoned buildings, abandoned neighborhoods, high crime rates and a pronounced demographic imbalance. Numerous stray dogs roam the city's derelict areas. Their numbers are estimated at 20,000. Fifty-nine Detroit postal workers were attacked by stray dogs in 2010, according to a Detroit postmaster.
The city's financial crisis resulted in the state of Michigan taking over administrative control of its government. The state governor declared a financial emergency in March 2013, appointing Kevyn Orr as emergency manager. On July 18, 2013, Detroit became the largest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy, awaiting approval by a judge. It was declared bankrupt by U.S. judge Stephen Rhodes on December 3, with an $18.5 billion debt. Rhodes accepted the city's contention that it is broke and that negotiations with its thousands of creditors were infeasible.