Detroit is the most populous city in the U.S. state of Michigan, and is the seat of Wayne County, the most populous county in the state and the largest city on the United States-Canada border. It is a primary business, cultural, financial and transportation center in the Metro Detroit area, a region of 5.2 million people, and serves as a major port on the Detroit River connecting 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.
The Detroit area emerged as a significant metropolitan region within the United States as construction of a regional freeway system was completed in the 1950s and 1960s. With these commuting ties allowing social and economic integration across a larger area, the Detroit name sometimes refers to the three-county Urban Area (population 3,734,090, area of , as of the 2010 United States Census), the six-county Metropolitan Statistical Area (2010 Census population of 4,296,250, area of ), or the 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 currently holds roughly one-half of the state's population.
Known as the world's traditional automotive center, "Detroit" is a metonym for the American automobile industry and 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). Detroit's auto industry was an important element of the American "Arsenal of Democracy" supporting the Allied powers during World War II.
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 down from a peak population of over 1.8 million at the 1950 census, indicating a serious and long-running decline of Detroit's economic strength. Commensurate with the shift of population and jobs to its suburbs or other states, the city has had to adjust its role within the larger metropolitan area. Downtown Detroit has seen an increased role as an entertainment hub in the 21st century, with the opening of three casinos, new stadiums, and a riverfront revitalization project. However, many neighborhoods remain distressed.
The state governor declared a financial emergency 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 U.S. judge Stephen Rhodes on December 3, who cited its $18.5 billion debt and declared that negotiations with its thousands of creditors were unfeasible.
The city's name originates from the Detroit River (meaning the strait of Lake Erie), linking Lake Huron and Lake Erie; in the historical context, the strait included Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River.
There, in 1701, the French officer Antoine de La Mothe Cadillac, along with fifty-one additional French-Canadians, founded a settlement called Fort Ponchartrain du Détroit, naming it after the comte de Pontchartrain, Minister of Marine under Louis XIV. France offered free land in an effort to attract families to Detroit, which grew to 800 people in 1765, the largest city between Montreal and New Orleans. By 1773, the population of Detroit was 1,400. By 1778, its population was up to 2,144 and the third largest city in the Province of Quebec.
During the French and Indian War (1760), British troops gained control and shortened the name to Detroit. Several tribes launched Pontiac's Rebellion (1763), including a siege of Fort Detroit, but failed to capture it. Detroit passed to the United States under the Jay Treaty (1796). In 1805, fire destroyed most of the settlement. A river warehouse and brick chimneys of the wooden homes were the sole structures to survive.
From 1805 to 1847, Detroit was the capital of Michigan. As the city expanded, a geometric street layout plan developed by Augustus B. Woodward was followed. Detroit surrendered without a fight to British troops during the War of 1812 in the Siege of Detroit, was recaptured by the United States in 1813 and incorporated as a city in 1815.
Prior to the American Civil War, the city's access to the Canadian border made it a key stop along the Underground Railroad. Many Detroiters volunteered to fight 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 Gettysburg in 1863. At the arrival of the First Volunteer Infantry Regiment in Washington, Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying "Thank God for Michigan!" George Armstrong Custer led the Michigan Brigade during the American Civil War and called them the Wolverines.
During the late 19th century, several Gilded Age mansions were built east and west of the current downtown. Most notable among them was the David Whitney House located at 4421 Woodward Avenue. It was restored in 1986 & is now known as The Whitney Restaurant. During this period some referred to Detroit as the Paris of the West for its architecture, 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 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 period, Detroit was allowed to expand its borders annexing all or part of several surrounding villages and townships.
In 1903 Ford founded the Ford Motor Company. Ford's manufacturing—and those of automotive pioneers William C. Durant, the Dodge brothers, Packard, and Walter Chrysler—reinforced Detroit's status as the world's automotive capital; it also served to encourage truck manufacturers such as Rapid and Grabowsky.
With the factories came high-profile labor unions such as the American Federation of Labor and the United Auto Workers, which initiated strikes and other tactics in support of such things 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.
Detroit, like many places in the United States had a long history of racial conflict and discrimination. "By the 1920s the city had become a stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization committed to white supremacy." 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. A man died when shots were fired from Dr. Sweet's house into a threatening white mob who 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.
The 1940s saw the construction of the world's "first urban depressed freeway" ever built, the Davison, and the wartime retooling of the American automobile industry in support of the Allied powers during World War II which led to Detroit's key role as an element of the American Arsenal of Democracy. There have been six ships of the United States Navy named after the city, including USS Detroit (LCS-7).
Industry spurred growth during the first half of the 20th century as the city drew tens of thousands of new residents, particularly workers from the Southern United States, to become the United States' fourth largest.
Social tensions rose with the rapid pace of growth and racism continued to be a major problem in the United States. On January 20, 1942, with a cross burning nearby, 1,200 whites tried to prevent black families from moving into a new housing development in an all-white area of the city. Later in June 1943, Packard Motor Car Company promoted three blacks to work next to whites in their assembly lines. In response, 25,000 whites walked off the job, effectively slowing down the critical war production. It was clear that whites who worked with blacks in the same plant nevertheless refused to work side-by-side with them. 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 occurred three weeks after the Packard Motor Car incident. Over the course of three days, 34 people were killed. Of them, 25 were African–American, and approximately 600 were injured.
Mergers in the 1950s, especially in the automobile sector increased oligopoly in the American auto industry. Detroit auto manufacturers such as Packard and Hudson merged into other companies and eventually disappeared.
As in other major American cities, an extensive freeway system constructed in the 1950s, '60s, '70s, and '80s encouraged auto commuting. 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. In 1941, a streetcar had once ran on Woodward Avenue every 60 seconds at peak times. All of these changes in the area's transportation system favored low density auto oriented development over high density urban development and were factors that contributed to the metro Detroit area becoming the most sprawling job market in the United States, though other American cities also experienced suburbanization 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, the city's population gradually decreased 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. During the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Detroit witnessed growing confrontations between the police and inner city black youth, 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. Thousands of small businesses closed permanently or relocated to safer neighborhoods, and the affected district lay in ruins for decades.
On August 18, 1970, the NAACP filed suit against Michigan state officials, including Governor William Milliken. The original trial began April 6, 1971, and lasted 41 days. The NAACP argued that although schools were not officially segregated, the city of Detroit and its surrounding counties had enacted policies to maintain racial segregation in schools. The NAACP also suggested a direct relationship between unfair housing practices (such as redlining) and educational segregation.
District Judge Steven J. Roth held all levels of government accountable for the segregation. 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 to the Supreme Court, which took up the case February 27, 1974. The subsequent Milliken v. Bradley decision would come to have enormous national impact. 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."
In 1974, the city elected Coleman A Young to be its first black mayor.
Renaissance has been a common theme among city leaders, reinforced by the construction of the Renaissance Center in the late 1970s. This complex of skyscrapers, designed as a city within a city, together with other developments, slowed and eventually began to reverse the trend of businesses leaving Downtown Detroit by the late 1990s.
During the 1980s, vacant and occupied structures were demolished to make way for new development and revitalization. Mayor Young and automobile executives controversially championed the use of eminent domain to build two large new auto assembly plants in the city: the General Motors Detroit/Hamtramck Assembly Plant, also known as the "Poletown Plant", and the Chrysler Jefferson North Assembly Plant. Also, various large developments such as Riverfront Condominiums, the Millender Center Apartments, Harbortown, and 150 West Jefferson were built on or near the Detroit's waterfront.
In the 1990s, the city continued to see new developments centered in the Downtown, Midtown and New Center areas. One Detroit Center (1993) arose on the city skyline. New downtown stadiums were constructed for the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions in 2000 and 2002, respectively; this put the Lions' home stadium in the city proper for the first time since 1974. In the ensuing years, three large casinos opened: MGM Grand Detroit, Motor City Casino and Greektown Casino, which debuted as resort hotels in 2007–08. The city also saw the historic Book Cadillac Hotel and the Fort Shelby Hotel reopen 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 all of which prompted 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 is the focus of much development following the example of Windsor, Canada, which began its waterfront parkland conversion in the 1990s. In 2001, the first portion (stretching 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, the waterfront gained miles of parks and fountains. 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 through tourism.