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Detroit History

Detroit is a dynamic, diverse city with an intriguing history. It's a place of people and places, trends and events, world-changing inventions and groundbreaking music. Long known as the automobile capital of the world, Detroit is also famous for its distinctive Motown music sound from the 1960s.

Detroit is home to a rich mix of people from various ethnic backgrounds, including citizens of Italian, English, German, Polish, Irish, Mexican, Middle Eastern, African, and Greek descent. Today, Detroit is composed primarily of African Americans, Hispanics and Arab Americans. That racial diversity is reflected in areas such as Greektown, Mexicantown and Asian Village.

Detroit played a key role in the industrialization of America throughout the 20th century, and is ready to transform itself as technologies develop into the 21st century. 

For hundreds of years, the area was so important to commerce between Native American tribes that only traders were allowed into the territory.

Detroit wouldn't begin to shape into its current form until roughly three centuries ago. That's when French explorer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac landed on the banks of the Detroit River and established a fort in 1701. Nine years later he was removed from his post as outpost commander due to "ill conduct" (i.e. excessive lining of his own pockets). Change would remain a constant throughout Detroit's first century. In 1760, French rule gave way to British. And in 1796 the United States took over Detroit as a result of Jay's Treaty.

Detroit was incorporated as a city in 1815 and spent the decades leading up to the Civil War as the final U.S. stop on the Underground Railroad. The area also was earning a reputation for, among other things, the manufacturing of cigars and kitchen ranges.

So why did Detroit become the Motor City instead of the stove-making capital of the world? It's in large part due to the influence of a farmer's son named Henry Ford. In 1896, Ford built his first car in Detroit - not an entirely earth-shattering event since the automobile had already been around for a while. It was the method of building cars that he would later devise - the moving assembly line - that put the world on wheels.

During the early part of the 20th century, dozens of companies emerged in the area committed to finding success in the new industry During World War II, the factories they built to produce cars were put to use churning out weapons for the Allied Powers. The production edge they provided helped to win the war.

Ironically, it was a former autoworker that led the way for Detroit's other famous 20th century contribution - Motown. Founded by Berry Gordy Jr. with just an $800 family loan, the upstart record company introduced the world to Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Smokie Robinson, Michael Jackson, the Temptations, Diana Ross and others - all of whom either grew up or gained their first fame in Detroit.

At the start of the 21st century, metro Detroit is starting to reap the rewards of decades of work put into revitalization. We encourage you to come and examine our region's rich history, learn more about our bright future and enjoy our exciting present.