Detroit, United States of America

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Located in southeastern Michigan, Detroit is the largest city in Michigan and the seat of Wayne county. The city occupies 143 sq. miles (370 km2) and is connected to the upper and lower regions of the Great Lakes by the Detroit and Rouge Rivers, giving it strategic advantages that have helped it gain its status as one of the major industrial centres in the United States. Detroit is nicknamed the Motor City, in recognition of the key role it has played in the American automobile industry.


Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit was established in 1701 as a French trading post dealing in fur with the Chippewa Native Americans. In 1760 the British took control of the area. The Jay Treaty of 1794 led to a British withdrawal and the United States took control 2 years later. Detroit was incorporated as a city in 1802 and became the capital of the newly created Michigan Territory in 1805. A fire later the same year ravaged much of the city.

The British briefly regained control of Detroit in 1812, but it was returned to American control the following year. In 1818 the first steamboat run between Buffalo, New York and Detroit was established and the city soon became a distribution and processing centre for grain, flour and agricultural products. The Erie canal was completed in 1825 making the Great Lakes the largest inland waterway in the world and boosting Detroit’s economic development. Michigan became a state in 1837 although the capital was moved from Detroit to Lansing in 1847. The building of a railroad linking Detroit with Chicago in 1852 confirmed its economic status and helped promote its iron and steel industries.

Detroit became a major centre for the automobile industry around the turn of the 20th century. Ransom E. Olds opened an automobile factory in 1897 and Henry Ford completed his assembly line by 1914. Ford’s success transformed the city into the world’s foremost producer of automobiles leading to a massive rise in the city’s population as many migrants, particularly black people from the south, came in search of employment. During the First and Second World Wars Detroit was an important centre of armaments production.

After the war, the city’s racial tensions often bubbled to the surface. Meanwhile, as the importance of water transportation faded, so the city’s industries faltered. Many white people left the city centre for the suburbs and unemployment rose steeply. Race relations reached a low-point in 1967 when there was a week of race riots. The city’s first black mayor took office in 1973 but social and economic problems continued throughout the 1980s as crime rose and the automobile industry struggled because of competition from Japan and Europe. However, the city fought back in the mid-1990s, leading to major improvements in its public services and infrastructure and a significant rise in investment.

Modern City

For all the problems it has suffered in the post-war period, Detroit remains one of the United States largest industrial centres. The city’s economy is sensitive to market conditions in the automobile industry but has a firm manufacturing and shipping base. Apart from automobiles the city’s main products are steel, chemicals and machinery.

The city is served by Detroit Wayne County Metropolitan Airport and has an extensive network of roads and highways. The city has Greyhound bus and Amtrak rail terminals. A People Mover, an elevated railway, and DOT buses are the major forms of transport in the city itself. The riverfront remains the heart of modern Detroit and houses the Renaissance Center, a complex of offices, hotels, theatres and shopping facilities. The city also houses the Medical Center, one of the United States’ largest complexes of hospitals, clinics, and research laboratories. Detroitis home to Wayne State University, which includes Schools of Business, Law and Medicine.

Places of Interest

The Detroit Cultural Center houses several museums. The vast Detroit Institute of Art contains 100 galleries and includes, among others, 77 Matisses and 67 Picassos as well as work by Van Gogh and Rembrandt. Other major museums include the Museum of African-American History, the Detroit Historical Museum and, befitting the city’s status as the birthplace of rhythm and blues, the Motown Museum.

Detroit’s significant role in the history of automobiles is represented by the Henry Ford Museum and the Automotive Hall of Fame. Most of the city’s arts venues are in the northwest sector of downtown Detroit, including the Detroit Opera House, the Music Hall Center for Performing Arts, the Fox Theatre and Orchestra Hall, which houses the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

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© Springer Nature Limited 2019

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