Detroit was founded in 1701 by Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, who had convinced the French court that this location at the narrows (detroit is French for narrows) in the river connecting Lake Erie to Lake Huron would be a good location for a fort, fur-trading post, and settlement for Native allies displaced by the wars that had raged between the French, English, and Native tribes in eastern North America.
Detroit has a troubled history: part of France when it was founded; then British (part of the Province of Quebec) after control of the region passed to England in 1760; American after the Revolution, and briefly British again for a year when Tecumseh tricked the Mayor into surrendering in the War of 1812. Then it was a major terminus of the Underground Railroad until the American Civil War ended slavery in the US.
It also burned down in 1805, had race riots in 1863, 1943 and 1967.
It became a centre of manufacturing in the late 1800s, as the first Bessemer process steel foundry in North America was established at Wyandotte (a suburb of Detroit). This foundry and other companies that sprang up to make use of the iron ore from the western Lake Superior region turned out steel rail for the expanding railway, making the Detroit region the gateway to the west.
It also gave Detroit the manufacturing base needed for Henry Ford to establish automobile manufacturing in the early 1900s. A major centre of heavy industry, its population grew to peak around 1950 at 1.5 million. Since then it has declined, partly due to flight to the suburbs and partly due to a sagging economy, and now has a population of about 700,000. But it is still the centre of North America’s automobile industry.
Known today as much for its abandoned neighbourhoods as for automobile manufacturing, Detroit is a city with serious issues. The boom period from 1900 to 1950 financed some major architectural projects, which today make it an interesting city to visit for anyone interested in Art Deco architecture.
It is also picking itself up by its own belt, attracting major new investments from companies like Quicken Loans (who brought 4500 jobs and just finished building a streetcar line in the downtown), and investing in their airport, Delta’s second largest hub. The airport has the coolest tunnel connecting two terminals under the runway: