People have lived in the land now called Michigan for at least 12,000 years. Many centuries after those first inhabitants arrived, Native American tribes lived on the land, including the Kickapoo, Miami, Ojibwe, Potawatomi, Menominee, and Fox and Sauk. Eleven Native American tribes still live in Michigan today.
French explorers reached the area around 1618. France controlled the land until the mid-1700s, when England defeated the country in the French and Indian War, which lasted between 1754 and 1763. (Many Native Americans fought with France against England.) In 1805, Michigan became a U.S. territory. Settlers began pouring in around 1825, once the newly built Erie Canal made traveling across the country much easier. Michigan joined the Union as a free state in 1837.
Just before 1900, automakers Ransom E. Olds (as in Oldsmobile) and Henry Ford built some of the first cars in Detroit. The city is still called “Motor City” because so many cars are made there.
WHY’S IT CALLED THAT?
Experts aren’t sure, but Michigan might have been named after Lake Michigan, which got its name from a Native American word that roughly translates to “big lake.”
Experts don’t agree on why Michigan is called the Wolverine State ... especially since not many wolverines live there! One theory is that fur traders used to exchange animal pelts, including wolverines’, in Michigan. Another idea involves an 1835 land skirmish with Ohio. At the time, people from Ohio called their Michigan neighbors “wolverines” as an insult.
GEOGRAPHY AND LANDFORMS
Four of the Great Lakes share borders with Michigan: Superior, Huron, Michigan, and Erie. No wonder it’s sometimes called the Great Lakes State! It’s bordered by Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin in the south, and the Great Lakes and Canada in the east, north, and west. It’s also the only U.S. state that’s split into two big pieces: the Upper Peninsula in the north and the Lower Peninsula—known as “the mitten”—in the south. They’re connected by the five-mile Mackinac Bridge.
The Upper Peninsula is forested with low hills. It includes the state’s highest point, Mount Arvon—but even that’s a relatively short 1,979 feet.
The Lower Peninsula is mostly flat with some hills in the north. It’s also home to thousands of miles of shoreline, including Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, where 400-foot dunes give a clear view of Lake Michigan.
Over 40 percent of the state is covered in water—that’s more than any other state! Michigan even has islands, including Isle Royale, a national park in the middle of Lake Superior.
Michigan is home to many types of animals—especially the widespread white-tailed deer (the state animal). Once wiped out by hunters, native elk and moose have made comebacks after herds were relocated from Wyoming and Canada, respectively.
Michigan is also home to 360 bird species, including the rare Kirtland’s warbler. Raptors such as osprey, short-eared owls, and peregrine falcons live in Michigan as well, as do many water birds such as trumpeter swans, great blue herons, and piping plovers.
Red-bellied snakes, spiny soft-shell turtles, and five-lined skinks are a few of the reptiles that slink and creep through the state. Marbled salamanders, bullfrogs, and green frogs are among Michigan’s amphibians.
With more than half the state covered in forests, Michigan is filled with white pine (the state tree), American mountain ash, boxelder, sugar maple, and red mulberry. Michigan rose, orange coneflower, evening primrose (check it out blooming at night!), and yellow monkey flower are some of the wildflowers that grow in the Wolverine State.
Michigan is known for fishing, thanks to its 3,288-mile coastline, the longest freshwater coastline in the United States. Forestry is another important industry, as 90 percent of the Upper Peninsula is covered in trees. The state also produces iron oxide pigments, which are used for making red, orange, yellow, and black pigment—often for makeup.
—Who was born in Michigan? Just singers Madonna, Diana Ross, and Stevie Wonder; tennis player Serena Williams; and pilot Charles Lindbergh!
—Motown Records was founded in Detroit, Michigan, in 1959 (the name came from a combination of “motor” and “town,” since the city was a car manufacturing hub). The record company produced music by the Temptations, Diana Ross, the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, and many others. The studio where much of this music was recorded is now the Motown Museum and is open to visitors.
—Corn Flakes were “born” in Battle Creek in 1898. The Kellogg brothers were trying to make granola but accidentally created flakes instead!
—The Henry Ford Museum is filled with examples of American genius. Thomas Edison’s laboratory, a copy of the Declaration of Independence, and even the bus that Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks rode are all on display.