About Detroit – History & Overview

Detroit, the oldest city in the Midwest, was founded in 1701. Named according to its location at the Detroit River it was called the “City of the Strait” (Ville d’Etroit) by the French trader and explorer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac.

Secured from Fort Ponchartrain, the area stayed under French control until 1760 when the British occupied it, built Fort Lernoult and made it their central command of power on the western frontier. With the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, Detroit was placed by treaty in the territory of the United States, but continued to be in the possession of the British until July 11, 1796, when Capt. Moses Porter officially accepted the transfer and the United States took control of the territory as the final act of the Treaty of Paris.

Detroit’s incorporation as a city of the United States took place in 1815. After vigorous growth for a century it became the birth place of America’s automobile industry in 1896 and is known today just as well as the Motor City and Motown.

[Auto 100 Logo] Thus, in 1996, Detroit celebrated its 200th anniversary under the American Flag as well as the American Automobile Centennial.

Located at 83.09 degrees longitude and 42.38 degrees latitude, the city consists of 139 square miles today, located strategically as a gateway to Canada on the Detroit River north of Windsor, Canada, in southeastern Michigan. The official 1990 Census population was 1,027,974, while the 1992 population was estimated at 1,013,974. This makes it the ninth largest city in the U.S and the largest metropolitan area on any international border in the world.

Detroit is the seat of Wayne County. Wayne County has an estimated population of 2,102,413 (1992) which makes it the most populated county in the state of Michigan.

The Greater Detroit area consists of eight counties: Lapeer, Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair, Washtenaw and Wayne. Together, the population of these eight counties is roughly 4.7 million people, just slightly less than half of all Michigan residents, making Greater Detroit the sixth largest metropolitan area in the U.S. All together, there are over 250 separate and distinct municipalities in the Greater Detroit area. These cities, townships and villages range in size from tiny Emmett (population: 306) in rural St. Clair County to giant Detroit.

Because of this diversity and its rich ethnic makeup, the Greater Detroit area truly offers something for everyone. Residents can choose between rural farming communities, quiet suburban neighborhoods, a variety of ethnic neighborhoods, exclusive and chic urban areas, or the excitement of the big city of Detroit. And, all of these living options are located within an easy commute of the region’s major employment centers.

Greek Town, located in the heart of downtown Detroit, is a popular tourist destination and a favorite hangout for locals as well and features fabulous Greek cuisine, local music acts, and other attractions, such as historic Trappers Alley, a historic trappers warehouse and processing facility, now incorporated inside the Greektown Casino.

On the south-west side of downtown, near the Ambassador Bridge, one of Detroit’s links to Canada, another ethnic community flourishes in Mexican Village, featuring a diversity of well-known restaurants and an annual Mexican Festival.

Detroit’s cultural and ethnic diversity is celebrated in the form of weekend festivals held at Hart Plaza on the river front every summer. One of the highlights of the summer festivities is the week-long International Freedom Festival, held in cooperation with Detroit’s Canadian sister city Windsor, across the river, in celebration of Canada’s Dominion Day, July 1st, and Independence Day. The festival features one of the most spectacular fireworks displays in the world staged from several large barges in the middle of the Detroit River. Other major festivals include the largest free Jazz festival in the world, the Ford Detroit International Jazz Festival, and, a recent addition, the Electronic Music Festival which attracts young visitors from around the world. Among the ethnic festivals, a major event is the annual African World Festival, attracting hundreds of thousands of people from around the world to Detroit’s river front in August, when musicians, artisans, chefs and scholars present the full range of the African diaspora.

In addition, major sporting events take place on or near the river in the summer. Most notably, the annual Hydroplane boat races on the river between Belle Isle and the west bank, and the Detroit Grand Prix IndyCar races, draw several hundred thousand visitors each year. The Detroit Redwings play championship hockey in nearby Joe Louis Arena and the Detroit Tigers play at the new Comerica Park, relegating historic Tiger Stadium at Michigan and Trumbull to history, both located in downtown. The Detroit Lions NFL football team has recently relocated to their new stadium, Ford Field, next to Comerica Park. Ford field hosted the 2006 Superbowl, and a Final Four college basket ball tournament is in the planning. The suburb of Auburn Hills (The Palace) is home to Detroit Pistons Basketball. Altogether, five professional sports teams and 3 NCAA Division 1 college teams compete in Detroit’s numerous arenas and stadiums.

Other recreational opportunities are abundant in the Metro Detroit area. An extensive system of public parks and recreation facilities offer attractions such as swimming beaches, camping sites, fishing, boating, nature centers, hiking trails, and golf courses. In the winter season, skiing facilities are within easy reach from the city. The Detroit Zoo is a popular destination of local and out-of-town visitors.

Detroit is home to the Motown sound and many contemporary music stars grew up here when Motown Records was founded and grew to international acclaim. Detroit is also known as a major jazz center and the Ford Detroit International Jazz Festival is held each year at the end of the summer festival series is one of the countries best and most popular.

Another musical treasure, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, performing in magnificent Orchestra Hall with famed acoustic qualities, has earned international reputation for excellence.

The newest addition to Detroit’s cultural scene, the Detroit Opera House, features world-class stage and production facilities and is the home of the Michigan Opera Theatre.

Other historic theaters, such as the 4,500 seat Fox Theater, the Fisher Theater, newly refurbished Music Hall, the magnificent Masonic Temple, as well as several outdoor stages (Chene Park, Meadow Brook, and Pine Knob) offer Broadway shows and performances of world-renowned artists and performers.

With Cobo Hall, recently expanded and now one of the nation’s largest single room exhibit halls, Detroit has become a major conference and exhibition center, recently hosting international leaders for the G-7 Economic Summit. Hotel and tourism business has recently had a significant resurgence and downtown hotels enjoy healthy business, among them the world’s third tallest hotel, The Westin, in the center tower of the impressive Renaissance Center on the river front.

In support of its role as the Automobile Capital of the World, Detroit is a leader in research and development activities. Twenty-seven percent of the area’s labor force is employed in the service sector, six percent in finance, insurance and real estate, and 23 percent in the wholesale and retail trades.

Beside automobile manufacturing, the Detroit area’s primary industries include machine tool accessories, internal combustion engines, iron and steel forging, plumbing fittings, metal cutting tools and distilled liquor. Detroit leads the nation or ranks among the top three manufacturing centers in these industries. It is also the Potato Chip Capital of the World.

Six freeways, among them the oldest in the country, not only provide easy access to the entire region, but also link the Greater Detroit area with the rest of the Midwest. Chicago is 5 hours by car to the west, the same as Toronto, CA, to the northeast. Toledo (OH) is one hour south, and Cleveland about 3 hours southeast.

Two airports, one in the city and one 19 miles from downtown, and 26 airlines serve the air transportation needs for a large portion of the entire state. Detroit Metropolitan International Airport is owned by Wayne County and is the 15th busiest airport in the world. About one half million flights arrive or depart here each year. It is a major hub for Northwest Airlines, which transports here over 9 million passengers per year, including around 800,000 international guests, accounting for 70 percent of the flights. It is followed by Southwest Airlines with some 529,000 passengers.

Detroit is home to some of the largest daily newpapers in the US, the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. Overall it is served by six daily newspapers with a total circulation of over 1.2 million (1994) and numerous weekly papers. The area has eight television stations and 59 radio stations.

There are nine universities, seven colleges, ten community college campuses and dozens of trade and vocational schools located in the Greater Detroit area. Wayne State University, one of the nations premier research universities is located in the heart of the city in the Cultural Center which also includes many other fine facilities. Among them, the Detroit Institute of Arts contains the nation’s fifth largest and comprehensive fine arts collection. The Detroit Public Library maintains over 2 million volumes and over half a million fine arts prints, in additions to a complete set of U.S. Patents. The newly constructed Charles Wright Museum of African-American History is one of the world’s largest museum of its kind, dedicated to the preservation and presentation of African and African-American history and culture.

The area is served by 64 hospitals and over 11,000 physicians. State-of-the-art health care is available at either of the area’s two teaching and research centers: Detroit Medical Center (DMC) and The University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor. With the new addition of a Veteran Administration’s Hospital the DMC will be one of the largest medical facilities on the continent.

Metropolitan Detroit presents some of the finest and most diverse shopping opportunities in the Midwest, with everything from historic Eastern Market, an early morning farmers market, to the finest malls in the suburbs. The newest addition, Summerset North, opened in August 1996, features fine stores like Nordstrom and others.

The Metropolitan Detroit Convention & Visitors Bureau can be found at
211 W. Fort St. – Suite 1000
Detroit, MI 48226
Main Phone: (313) 202-1800
Main Fax: (313) 202-1808
Tourism Phone: 1-800-DETROIT (1-800-338-7648)
Tourism Fax: (313) 202-1833
Tourism Email: VIC@visitdetroit.com