Michigan entered the Union as the twenty-sixth state on January 26, 1837. More than two hundred years earlier, when French explorer Étienne Brulé visited the region in 1622, some twelve to fifteen thousand Native Americans lived there. Sault Sainte Marie, the state’s oldest town, was founded in 1668 at a site where French missionaries had held services for two thousand Ojibwa in 1641. The Ojibwa, along with the Ottawa, helped the French establish a thriving fur trade in the Great Lakes region.
Great Britain acquired control of present-day Michigan in 1763 and administered it as a part of Canada until 1783, when it was ceded to the United States under the provisions of the Treaty of Paris. Organized as part of the Northwest Territory in 1787, Michigan became a separate territory in 1805.
With French Catholics as its first European settlers, Michigan maintained its strong Catholic identity in the early nineteenth century, attracting a large number of Catholic immigrants. Dioceses were established at Detroit (1833), Marquette, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Saginaw, Gaylord, and Kalamazoo.
The completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 prepared the way for a great influx of settlers between 1830 and the Civil War. Michigan made a significant contribution in that conflict. Some 90,000 Michigan soldiers fought for the Union and 14,000 gave their lives.
Lumbering, mining, and agriculture defined the Michigan economy in the nineteenth century. After 1910, the automobile industry emerged as the dominant economic engine in the state. Manufacturing jobs attracted newcomers, many of whom left homes in the rural South and migrated to Michigan’s urban areas. Today, approximately half the state population resides in the Detroit metropolitan area.
The collections feature a wide variety of material highlighting the history of Michigan:
- Penned by Irving Berlin in 1914, “I Want to Go Back to Michigan” was a hit that year. Later it was a success in vaudeville and later still, in its most famous rendition, sung by Judy Garland in the film Easter Parade (MGM, 1948).
- The Michigan State Guide compiles links to digital materials related to Michigan from across the Library’s website. Also included is a selected bibliography and curated list of external websites focusing on Michigan.
- Locate more images of Michigan’s sites and cities. Search across the pictorial collections on terms such as Belle Island, Detroit, Lansing, Benton Harbor, or Ann Arbor.
- Albert Ruger began his panoramic mapping career by sketching Michigan cities. Search on the keywords Ruger and Michigan in Panoramic Maps to see outstanding examples of his work such as Grand Rapids (1868), Lansing (1866), Saginaw (1867), and Kalamazoo (1874). Other mapmakers drew views of towns such as Detroit (about 1889) and Marquette (1897).
- Search on Michigan in Railroad Maps, 1828 to 1900 to find nineteenth-century railroad maps. See, for example, Railroads in Michigan, with Steamboat Routes on the Great Lakes.
- Search on Michigan in Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820 to 1910 for a wide variety of materials concerning the state, including a Medical History of Michigan and a history of the National Grange in Michigan. Also, read the essay The History of the Upper Midwest: an Overview for background on the northernmost tier of states in the Old Northwest.
- Henry R. Schoolcraft’s work on Indian myths and legends inspired Longfellow to write “Hiawatha.” Read Schoolcraft’s Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers (1851) which gives detailed geographic, geological, political, military, folkloric, historical, and ethnographic information regarding the area that became Michigan.
- The collection The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920 contains a proclamation made by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909 establishing the Michigan National Forest. Learn more about the environmental ramifications of the region’s rapid industrial growth by viewing a House Report on the dumping of refuse material into Lake Michigan near Chicago and the statute enacted to remedy the problem.