detroit past-present

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A look at the history of Detroit and what brought it to where it is today


  • Once proud and often eloquent sentinels of economic prosperity, Detroit, Michigan has deteriorated right before our eyes. In the past three hundred years Detroit has gone through many transformations.These are the events that built Detroit from the ground up and the circumstances that decayed a great American city.

  • 1701 Antoine de Lamothe Cadillac establishes a trading post on the Detroit River under orders from the French King Louis XIV. They name it Fort Pontchartrain du Dtroit at the present site of Detroit, in homage to the Count of Pontchartrain, the Royal Minister of Marine.

    1760 The British gained control of the area in 1760 and thwarted an Indian attack three years later during Pontiacs Rebellion. In 1796 Detroit and its surrounding areas passed to the United States.

    Detroit Population


  • 1820 Detroits initial growth came from its economic base in flour milling and as a result, workshops and repair shops were heavily developed to support the flour milling industry. This development included shipyards.

    1840 Detroits shipyards were not only building and repairing ships for the Great Lakes trade but also building ocean-going cargo ships. Detroit shipyards were among the first in the world to build steam ships, which lead to the development of an industry for the manufacture of marine steam engines.

    Detroit Population


  • 1846 1846 Large deposits of iron and copper were discovered near the present-day city of Negaunee located in Michigans Upper Peninsula. The deposits found there started becoming a large export of Detroit.

    1860Marine steam engines were a major export from Detroit. The industry there supported suppliers, such as specialized engine parts, tool-makers and metal suppliers.

    Detroit Population


  • 1870The most important parts of the metal trade for Detroit were the refiners and smelters for local copper ores. This industry grew beyond supplying the Detroit market and became an export industry. Copper and iron alloys became Detroits largest export industry and around 1880 the local deposits of copper ore were used up.

    1902Automobiles were invented and fitted with internal combustion engines. The internal combustion engine was first developed for boats and since the Great Lakes area was a major market for such smaller vessels an indus-try for manufacturing boat engines emerged in Detroit.

    Detroit Population


  • 1903A thriving carriage trade in Michigan setup both William Durant and Henry Ford to convert their carriage companies into automobile companies. Fords manufacturing innovations solidified Detroits status as the worlds car capital, and the industry spurred the citys spectacular growth. The rich offering of Detroit industry enabled entrepreneurial automak-ers to put together their first models from off-the-shelf parts.

    1930The development of the automobile industry led to a massive increase in demand for labor, which was filled by huge numbers of newcomers from Europe and American South. The city took on a more blue-collar appearance as its river-front became lined with factories and grain silos.

    Detroit Population


    4% African American

  • 1940The city was a magnet for workers coming from other parts of the country. African-Americans had been pretty much closed out of the industries that provided skilled jobs, but that pretty much ended during World War II.

    1943 A race riot, spurred by competition among black and white residents for wartime factory jobs, resulted in 34 deaths.

    Detroit Population


  • 194515% of Detroits autoworkers were black compared to only 3% in 1940. Detroit, then, became a magnet for black migrants who heard about these great opportunities.

    1949Through federal policies the government made it harder for blacks to own or buy homes in Detroit and prohibited making loans to risky properties. Real estate investors reinforced these invisible racial lines by steering black home buyers to certain neighborhoods and white home buyers to certain other neighbor-hoods, and stirring up racial anxiety when neighborhoods were along that invisible boundary.

    Detroit Population1,800,000


  • 1950Deindustrialization began. Jobs began to move out of Detroit to low-wage, rural regions of the United States and eventually the world. Detroit also saw laborsaving technology within the factories emerge and a decline in the number of manufacturing jobs. Manufacturing employment declined by 134,000 yet the citys population expanded. African Americans were the last to benefit from the increase in jobs caused by World War II and were the first to lose their jobs simply because whites were working longer. Invisible lines were segregat-ing whites and blacks throughout Detroit.

    Detroit Population1,900,000


  • 1967Race riots struck the city. After 5 days, 43 people lay dead, 1189 injured, 1,400 buildings burned and over 7000 people were arrested. This event accelerated white flight from the city leaving many homes and building abandoned for years. The riot had lasting effects on the entire metro region and is usually cited as one of the reasons the Detroit area is among the most segregated areas in the United States.

    Detroit Population



  • 1973Coleman Young is elected Detroits first black mayor, a position he would hold for 20 years. Youngs style during his record four terms in office was not well received by many white Detroiters.

    1976Foreign competition grew, hitting the citys home-grown industry. As jobs vanished and the black population passed 50%, whites fled in drovesa phenomenon known as white flight. The city became pervaded by nostalgia for its prosperous past. Vain efforts were made to attract the factories back; in 1976 Henry Ford II opened the Renaissance Center complex to try to revitalise the citys economy.

    Detroit Population



  • 1990Detroit had the largest percentage of single-family homes in the US. The city lost 1% of its housing stock each year to arson. In response, the city spent $25 million on the removal of abandoned houses and other structures.

    1992The city spent $250 million on the removal of toxic waste on property the city was donating to Chrysler Corporation for the construction of a new Jeep factory.

    Detroit Population



  • 1996Detroit was the 11th largest city in the US. 79% of the population in Detroit was African American while 78% of the population in the surrounding suburbs was White. The average income in the city was 47% of what it was in those surrounding suburbs.

    1998A state referendum paved the way for three Detroit casinosMGM Grand Detroit, Motor City Casino and Greektown Casinowith the goal of increasing tourism and stemming the flow of gambling dollars to nearby Windsor, Ontario.

    Detroit Population



  • 1999Only 9000 building permits were issued for new homes in Detroit, while over 108,000 demolition permits were issued and during the entire year of 1988, no building construc-tion permits were issued in Detroit.

    2000Comerica Park replaced historic Tiger Stadium as the new home of the Detroit Tigers and in 2002 Ford Field replaced the suburban located Pontiac Silverdome as the home of the Detroit Lions.

    Detroit Population



  • 2006In Febuary Detroit hosted Superbowl XL at Ford Field. More than $1 billion was spent on new buildings, stadiums, an ice rink and snow park, and on restoring and cleaning facades in downtown Detroit. Sixty new retailers have opened their doors downtown in anticipation of crowds lured by the game. Around the gleaming new landmarks, including Ford Field, Comerica Park and the Compuware Center, the old cityand problemsremain. Ford Automotive announced its plan to cut 30,000 auto jobs and cost the region another plant. The city government was close to bankruptcy and laid off hundreds of workers last year. The population is down to 900,000 and is still shrinking. Critics ask who will support the new retailers once the Super Bowl crowds have gone.

    Detroit Population



  • In spite of Detroits recent downtown revitalization, leaders have failed to deal with the deeply rooted problems of job flight, racial segregation and discrimination. People look at the wasted landscape and ask: Do you see ruins, or empty space? A past that is gone, or the landscape of some different kind of future?