Outline of the State of Michigan and the Great Lakes
Michigan's two peninsulas are so distinctive in shape that they are easily identified by astronauts more than 100 miles up in space, unlike other states whose borders are often political lines drawn on a map. The Lower Peninsula is often called "The Mitten" because its shape is similar to that of a hand held upward. The Upper Peninsula resembles a left hand with the fingers extending eastward. Michigan is the only state divided into two major peninsulas.
Michigan has more miles of freshwater shoreline than any other state in the nation. In fact, the state's name derives from the Indian phrase michi gami meaning "the great water."
Michigan's geography and history are entwined with that of the Great Lakes, five of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. Together, the Great Lakes of Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario form the largest body of fresh water in the world. Michigan borders four of these Lakes, all but Ontario, more than any other state.
The lure of furs and religious converts attracted French explorers to the Great Lakes in the mid-17th century, leading to the settlement of Sault Sainte Marie in 1668, Saint Ignace in 1671, and Detroit in 1701. The Great Lakes were important then as the only practical way to transport cargoes of fur great distances--using the distinctive "Great Lakes Canoes."
The transportation possibilities afforded by the Great Lakes spurred the rapid economic development in Michigan of natural resource industries such as copper and iron mining and lumber, followed by agriculture, then manufacturing industries such as furniture, chemicals, stoves, automobiles, pharmaceuticals, cereal, refrigerators, steel, paper products, tires, and baby food.
Today, the Great Lakes are also valuable in attracting tourists to Michigan.
Michigan entrepreneurs such as Henry Ford, Ransom Eli Olds, W. C. Durant, C. S. Mott, and Horace and John Dodge transformed the automobile from a luxury item only owned by the rich into a mass-produced consumer good affordable by the general public. In doing so, Ford and others led the way in adopting innovative manufacturing technology such as the assembly line that helped drive down production costs in this and many other industries.
At the same time, industry growth contributed to a rising standard of living for America's working class, one reason that Michigan leads that nation in home ownership.
Michigan was the center of the automotive industry for decades, and is still the state that produces the most vehicles. Literally, Michigan's automotive industry "put the world on wheels!"
Michigan's automotive industry not only paved the way for technological advances in other industries; it also changed America's culture forever. With the appearance of affordable automobiles, the everyday family was no longer dependent on limited-route, fixed-schedule trains and ships for traveling. Instead, car drivers had more choices on where to live and the freedom and flexibility to select their own destinations and time of travel.
Since it opened to traffic on November 1, 1957, the Mackinac Bridge has been crossed more than 100 million times. The total length of the Bridge is five miles. The Mackinac Bridge is the third longest suspension bridge in the world and the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere.
The Mackinac Bridge is more than a famous engineering marvel. It is also ties together the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan. It is the only way for a traveler to drive directly from one peninsula to the other. The bridge has facilitated a tourism explosion in the Upper Peninsula.
Because of their massive area and irregular shorelines, the Great Lakes have more lighthouses than either U.S. Coast. Michigan has more lighthouses, 120, than any other state in the nation. Michigan lighthouses have assisted ships on the Great Lakes since the 1840s, contributing to the growth in commerce. Today, Michigan's lighthouses remain popular tourist attractions.
Great Lakes Canoe
The Great Lakes canoe was the primary means of transporting Native American Indians, explorers, fur traders, and cargo in early Michigan history. The canoes were distinctive for their high-rising ends that better protected the passengers and cargo as they traversed the often-choppy waters of the Great Lakes.
The North Star, the tip of the Big Dipper ("The Drinking Gourd") and the strongest beacon in the night sky, showed the way to freedom for fugitive slaves in the years before the Civil War. As runaway slaves were subject to arrest and return anywhere in the United States, they needed to escape to another country such as Canada to live safely. The Underground Railroad was a chain of safe houses where the fugitives received food, shelter, and other care from those strongly opposed to the institution of slavery. Citizens in many southern Michigan cities secretly harbored runaway slaves, helping them reach freedom by crossing into Canada from either Detroit or Port Huron.
White Pine Tree
In 1888 alone, the west coast Michigan city of Muskegon produced 800 million boardfeet of lumber, earning the city the title of "Lumber Queen of the World." At its peak in the mid-1880s, 63 sawmills surrounded Muskegon Lake and nearby White Lake. On the east side of Michigan, the cities of Saginaw and Bay City were major lumber centers.
The primary source of lumber in Michigan was the white pine tree. From humble beginnings in 1837, Michigan's logging and lumber operations became a major industry in the first half-century of statehood. In that era, a high percentage of houses built across Midwest were constructed of Michigan white pine.
The abundance of hardwoods in the lower section of Michigan also contributed to the establishment of furniture companies in the western part of the state, which remains a major state industry to this day.
Today, the white pine is the official state tree and the remaining white pine forests serve as a significant tourist attraction.