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The city of Detroit, the largest city in the state of Michigan, developed from a small fur trading post of New France to a world-class industrial powerhouse and the fourth largest American city by the mid 20th century. The city, settled in 1701, is the first European settlement above tidewater in North America. After a devastating fire in 1805, Augustus B. Woodward devised a street plan similar to Pierre Charles L'Enfant's design for Washington, D.C. Detroit's monumental avenues and traffic circles fan out in radial fashion from Campus Martius Park in the heart of the city, which facilitates traffic patterns along the city's tree-lined boulevards and parks. Main thoroughfares radiate outward from the city center like spokes in a wheel.
During the 19th century, Detroit grew into a thriving hub of commerce and industry, and the city spread along Jefferson Avenue, with multiple manufacturing firms taking advantage of the transportation resources afforded by the river and a parallel rail line. In the late 19th century several Gilded Age mansions were built just east of Detroit's current downtown. Detroit was referred to by some as the Paris of the West for its architecture, and for Washington Boulevard, recently electrified by Thomas Edison. Throughout the 20th century various skyscrapers were built centered on Detroit's downtown.
Following World War II, the auto industry boomed and the metropolitan area became one of the largest in the United States. Immigrants and migrants have contributed significantly to Detroit's economy and culture. In the 1990s and the new millennium, the city has experienced increased revitalization. Many areas of the city are listed in the National Register of Historic Places and include National Historic Landmarks. The suburbs continue to grow, but the population of the city itself has plunged from a high of 1,849,568 in 1950 to 710,000 in 2010, with the non-Hispanic white element falling from 816,000 to 56,000.
The first recorded mention of the site was in 1670, when French missionaries found a stone idol venerated by the Indians there and destroyed it with an axe. Early settlers planted twelve missionary pear trees "named for the twelve Apostles" on the grounds of what is now Waterworks Park.
The city name comes from the Detroit River (French: le détroit du Lac Érie), meaning the strait of Lake Erie, linking Lake Huron and Lake Erie; in the historical context, the strait included Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River. The sieur de Cadillac in 1698 proposed to his government in Paris that Detroit be established as a shelter for displaced Indian allies. Paris approved and in 1701 Cadillac led a party of 100 Frenchmen to establish a post called Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit, naming it after his sponsor the comte de Pontchartrain, Minister of Marine under Louis XIV. In 1704 he was given ownership over the strenuous opposition of officials in New France. An investigation by de Pontchartrain showed Cadillac was a tyrannical profiteer whose mischief hurt the French cause, so Cadillac was removed and sent to faraway New Orleans as governor of Louisiana.
Grants of free land attracted families to Detroit, which grew to 800 people in 1765. The main business was trading furs with the Indians, using goods supplied from Montreal. It was the largest French village between Montreal and New Orleans. Francois Marie Picoté, sieur de Belestre (Montreal 1719–1793), the last French commander at Fort Detroit (1758–1760), surrendered on November 29, 1760 to the British. They shortened the name to Detroit.
Demonstrating their independent power, several tribes in the region collaborated in Pontiac's Rebellion in 1763; they overran many smaller forts but could not subdue Detroit.
Detroit was the goal of various American campaigns during the American Revolution, but logistical difficulties in the North American frontier and American Indian allies of Great Britain would keep any armed rebel force from reaching the Detroit area. In the Treaty of Paris (1783), Great Britain ceded territory that included Detroit to the newly recognized United States, though in reality it remained under British control. Great Britain continued to trade with and defend her native allies in the area, and supplied local nations with weapons to harass American settlers and soldiers. The British left in 1796 following the Jay Treaty. In 1794, a Native American alliance, that had received some support and encouragement from the British, was decisively defeated by General Anthony Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers near Toledo, Ohio. Wayne negotiated the Treaty of Greenville (1795) with many of these nations, in which tribes ceded the area of Fort Detroit to the United States.
Father Gabriel Richard arrived at Ste. Anne's in 1796. He helped start the school which evolved into the University of Michigan, started primary schools for white boys and girls as well as for Indians, as a territorial representative to U.S. Congress helped establish a road-building project that connected Detroit and Chicago, and brought the first printing press to Michigan which printed the first Michigan newspaper. In 1805, fire destroyed most of the settlement. A river warehouse and brick chimneys of the wooden homes were the sole structures to survive. Detroit's motto and seal (as on the Flag) reflect this fire.
Detroit was incorporated as a town by the legislature of the Northwest Territory at Chillicothe, Ohio, on January 18, 1802, effective February 1, 1802. Government was administered by a five-person board of trustees and there was no office of mayor. Following this, Ohio became a state and the eastern half of Michigan was attached to the Indiana Territory.
Before the new territorial government officially began, a fire destroyed nearly all of Detroit on June 11, 1805. The Michigan Territory was established effective June 30, 1805, as a separate territory with Detroit as the capital. The newly appointed governor, William Hull, and the territorial judges (Augustus B. Woodward, Frederick Bates, James Witherell, and John Griffin), constituted the territorial government. They convinced the U.S. Congress to pass an act on April 21, 1806, which authorized them to lay out a town that included all of the old town of Detroit plus an additional 10,000 acres (40 km²) to be used as compensation for persons who lost their house in the fire.
After the fire of 1805, Justice Augustus B. Woodward devised a plan similar to Pierre Charles L'Enfant's design for Washington, D.C. Detroit's monumental avenues and traffic circles fan out in a baroque styled radial fashion from Grand Circus Park in the heart of the city's theater district, which facilitates traffic patterns along the city's tree-lined boulevards and parks. Main thoroughfares radiate outward from the city center like spokes in a wheel
On September 13, 1806, the territorial government passed an act incorporating the new city of Detroit. The governor appointed Solomon Sibley as mayor. Shortly afterward, Sibley resigned and Elijah Brush was appointed in his stead. The mayor was appointed by the governor and, under the act of incorporation, was able to disapprove legislation passed by the popularly elected council without any recourse for overriding the mayor. Because of this, many felt that the real aim of the governor in incorporating the city was to remove the popularly elected town officers and exert a more direct influence over governance of the city. This form of government was extremely unpopular, and was repealed on February 4, 1809. However, to prevent resurrection of the popularly elected town government, on September 16, 1810, an act passed repealing all laws pertaining to Michigan that had been passed by the Legislature of the Northwest Territory. This effectively eradicated any trace of legitimacy for the former popularly elected town government.
In the War of 1812, Governor Hull surrendered Detroit to a smaller British force which threatened to allow its Indian allies to kill all American prisoners. The British had bluffed the Americans into believing there were thousands of native troops. Tecumseh marched his native troops through a clearing and then circled the same troops through the clearing again to make it seem there was a much larger native force. Hull was convicted of cowardice and sentenced to death by a court martial, but received a presidential pardon. The U.S. Army recaptured Detroit in 1813 after the British abandoned it and used it as a base to invade Canada and permanently end the threat of Indian raids on American settlements. After the British abandoned Detroit, American forces caught up to the escaping British and natives, and killed Tecumseh. Lewis Cass, as territorial governor, on October 24, 1815, restored control of local affairs to the people of Detroit, with the election of a five-person board of trustees and enactment of a charter for the city of Detroit.
Government under the board of trustees continued until an act of the Territorial Legislature on August 5, 1824, created a Common Council of the City of Detroit. The Council consisted of five aldermen, the mayor, and the recorder. In an act of April 4, 1827, the number of aldermen increased to seven. In 1839, it increased to 14: two aldermen from six wards plus the mayor and recorder. A seventh ward was created in 1848, an eighth in 1849, and the ninth and tenth wards in 1857. Also in 1857, a new city charter provided that the mayor and recorder would no longer sit as members of the council. At this time, the council consisted of 20 members, two aldermen from ten wards. In 1873, a twelfth ward was added and aldermen from an illegally constituted eleventh ward also temporarily sat on the council. In 1875, a properly constituted eleventh ward and a thirteenth ward were added. The city charter of 1883 changed the name of the body to the Board of Aldermen. A few years earlier in 1881, a separately elected ten-person body named Board of Councilmen (also called the City Council), was established. This body was abolished in 1887.
After Detroit rebuilt in the early 19th century, a thriving community soon sprang up, and by the Civil War, over 45,000 people were living in the city, primarily spread along Jefferson Avenue to the east and Fort Street to the west. As in many major American cities, subsequent redevelopment of the central city through the next 150 years has eliminated all but a handful of the antebellum structures in Detroit. The oldest remaining structures are those built as private residences, including a group in the Corktown neighborhood and another set of houses strung along Jefferson Avenue — notably the Charles Trowbridge House (1826), (the oldest known structure in the city), the Joseph Campau House (1835), the Sibley House (1848), the Beaubien House (1851), and the Moross House (1855). Other extant pre-1860 structures include Fort Wayne (1849); Saints Peter and Paul Church (1848) and Mariner's Church (1849); and early commercial buildings such as those in the Randolph Street Commercial Buildings Historic District, for example.
The main communication medium from the 1830s until the rise of television in the 1950s was the newspaper. Detroit had a large variety of daily papers, meeting the needs of the political parties have different language groups in the city, as well as the needs of readers concerned with news of business, labor, agriculture, literature, local churches, and polite society.
Prior to the American Civil War, the city's access to the Canadian border made it a key stop for runaway slaves along the underground railroad. The Michigan Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument in Detroit's Campus Martius Park commemorates the state's role in the American Civil War. Thousands of Detroiters formed volunteer regiments, including the 24th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment (part of the legendary Iron Brigade) which fought with distinction and suffered 82% casualties at Gettysburg in 1863. Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying Thank God for Michigan! Following Lincoln's assassination, General George Armstrong Custer delivered a eulogy to the thousands gathered near Campus Martius Park. Custer led the Michigan Brigade during the American Civil War and called them the Wolverines.
The Detroit race riot of 1863 occurred on March 6, 1863 and was the city's first such incident, as Irish and German Catholics resisted the mandatory draft laws. At the time, it was reported as "the bloodiest day that ever dawned upon Detroit." The casualties of the day included at least two people dead, and many others injured, mostly African-American, 35 buildings were burned to the ground, and a number of other buildings were damaged by fire.
Detroit's central location in the Great Lakes Region has contributed to its status as a major center for commerce and global trade. As Detroit grew, it emerged as a U.S. transportation hub linking the Great Lakes system of waterways to the Erie Canal and to rail lines. Pharmaceutical firms such as Parke-Davis in the 1870s and the Frederick Stearns Company in the 1890s established a centers between East Jefferson Avenue. Globe Tobacco built a manufacturing facility closer to downtown in 1888.
The rise of manufacturing led to a new class of wealthy industrialists, entrepreneurs, and professionals. Some of these nouveau riche built along East Jefferson, resulting in structures such as the Thomas A. Parker House (1868), the Croul-Palms House (1881), the William H. Wells House (1889), the John N. Bagley House (1889), and the Frederick K. Stearns House (1902).
Detroit began increasingly to expand, and other citizens pushed north of downtown, building houses along Woodward in what was at the time a quiet residential area. The city has many restored historic Victorian structures, notably those in the Brush Park and East Ferry Avenue historic districts. The Elisha Taylor House (1870) and the Hudson-Evans House (1872) are both in Brush Park; the Col. Frank J. Hecker House (1888) and the Charles Lang Freer House (1887) are in the East Ferry Avenue neighborhood. Near the end of the 19th century, apartment living became more acceptable for affluent middle-class families, and upscale apartments, such as the Coronado Apartments (1894), the Verona Apartments (1894), the Palms Apartments (1903), the Davenport Apartments (1905) in the Cass-Davenport Historic District, and the Garden Court Apartments (1915) were constructed to meet the new demand.
These well-to-do late-19th-century residents also funded the construction of a spate of churches, such as the Cass Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church (1883), the First Presbyterian Church (1889), the Trinity Episcopal Church (1890) (built by James E. Scripps), and the First Unitarian Church (1890).
Detroit has long been a city of immigrants, from the early French and English settlers in the 18th century, through the Irish who settled in the Corktown neighborhood in the 1840s, and the Germans who comprised the largest group. Significant contingents during this period included German and Polish immigrants who settled in Detroit in the 1860-1890s.
Conditions were especially favorable for the Irish Catholics. Vinyard finds that they enjoyed many opportunities and suffered "negligible religious prejudice." They were especially successful in politics, government service, dockyard and construction jobs, and built numerous churches. They funded the migration of relatives from Ireland. They took very active leadership roles in the Democratic Party and labor unions
Immigrants opened businesses and established communities. German immigrants established German-speaking churches, primarily on the east side of the city, including Saint John's-St. Luke's Evangelical Church (1872), St. Joseph Catholic Church (1873), and Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church (1875), as well as social clubs such as the Harmonie Club (1894) and west-side churches such as St. Boniface (1882) and Gethsemane Evangelical Lutheran Church (1891).
Close behind, a wave of Polish immigrants established east-side Roman Catholic parishes such as St. Albertus (1885), Sweetest Heart Of Mary (1893), St. Josaphat's (1901), St. Stanislaus (1911), and St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church (1923). The Poles also settled on the west side, founding West Side Dom Polski (1916). The son of Prussian Polish immigrants, Rev. John A. Lemke, born in Detroit on February 10, 1866, was the first American-born Roman Catholic Priest of Polish descent to be ordained in America. He was baptised at St. Mary Roman Catholic Church (1843), at the corner of St. Antoine and Croghan (Monroe), on February 18, 1866, attended St. Albertus for his primary education, and studied at Detroit College which is now the University of Detroit Mercy where he received a Bachelor's degree in 1884; then, after attending St. Mary's in Baltimore, he completed his theological studies at St. Francis Seminary in Monroe, Michigan, and he was ordained by the Bishop John Samuel Foley in 1889. The Catholics were especially energetic in building churches, schools, orphanages, hospitals and other charitable institutions.
Nearly nine out of ten Detroiters in 1900 (87%) lived in single-family homes. German, Polish, and Irish ethnics were more likely to be home owners than old stock Americans. Most ethnics built their own home with the aid of their countrymen, or if still saving the purchase price they rented from fellow ethnics. They used an informal, localized, ethnically controlled housing market that was quite distinct from the professionally operated housing market. Thus homeownership in Detroit was rooted in the city's ethnic neighborhoods and was, in 1900, not attributable to the middle class.
In 1887, John Pridgeon, Jr., a Democrat was elected mayor in a landslide after his Republican opponent endorsed prohibition in the heavily German city. Pridgeon's term was besmirched by multiple scandals involving the Common Council, city commissioners, grand jury investigations, and multiple indictments for bribery and graft. In 1889 Republicans recouped and called for "good government" by nominating a businessman with no political experience, Hazen S. Pingree after a colorful campaign in which Pingree revealed his tolerance by making a circuit of saloons. One of his first projects was simply paving the streets—only four streets were paved, and The Detroit Journal described the rest as "150 miles of rotting, rutted, lumpy, dilapidated paving." In hot weather some stretches oozed pitch and resin and occasionally caught fire from discarded cigar butts. Warning repeatedly against the dangers of government by the corporations, he launched nationally visible crusades against Detroit's streetcar, gas, electric, and telephone companies. He successfully forced rate reductions that won him widespread popularity. He won public approval for a citizen-owned electric light plant, and became a national spokesman for municipal ownership and close regulation of utilities and street railways. When the nationwide Panic of 1893 pushed the nation into a deep depression (1893–97), he won approval by opening empty lots to garden farming – people called them "Pingree's potato patches." He was a steadfast Republican, and had nothing to do with the Populist Party that had considerable support among labor union members. Pingree added to the old stock Yankee Republican base by making large inroads into the German, Polish and Canadian elements. He was reelected in 1891, 1893 and 1895. Pingree was one of the most influential American mayors in the 1890s – historians now rated him number 4 among all American mayors, and see him as one of the earliest leaders of the Progressive Era. He supported the gold standard in 1896, and worked hard to carry the city and state for William McKinley over silverite William Jennings Bryan in the intensely competitive 1896 presidential election. McKinley carried the city and state and Pingree was elected governor of Michigan.
Progressivism was energized by upper middle class men and women who felt a civic duty to uplift society by freeing it from the tyranny of corrupt politicians who worked hand in hand with unscrupulous saloonkeepers. A representative leader was automaker Henry M. Leland of the Detroit Citizens League. Supported by Detroit's business, professional, and Protestant religious communities, the League campaigned for a new city charter, an anti-saloon ordinance, and the open shop whereby a worker could get a job even if he did not belong to a labor union.
A thriving carriage trade set the stage for the work of Henry Ford, whose automobile Highland Park Ford Plant in 1910 revolutionized not only automobile manufacturing but virtually created the concept the assembly line and mass production. Ford's manufacturing innovations were soon adopted by rival automobile manufacturers, most of whom, and their parts suppliers, were headquartered in the Detroit metropolitan area, establishing the city's fame as the world's car capital.
Around the start of the 20th century, entrepreneurs in the Detroit area—notably Henry Ford—forged into production of the automobile, capitalizing on the already-existing machine tool and coach-building industry in the city. Early automotive production is recognizable by structures such as Ford's Piquette Plant (1904) (a National Historic Landmark), and multiple structures in the surrounding Piquette Avenue Industrial Historic District (including the now-destroyed E-M-F/Studebaker Plant, 1906) and the New Amsterdam Historic District (including the original Cadillac factory, 1905) and small factories such as the Crescent Brass and Pin Company Building (1905).
Automobile assembly and associated manufacturing soon dominated Detroit, and the newly minted automotive magnates built commercial and office buildings such as General Motors Building (1919), the General Motors Research Laboratory (1928), and the Fisher Building (1928).
Ford revolutionized labor relations with his high wage policy that brought in the best workers in Detroit, and made "Fordism" world famous. He began with a $5 a day minimum wage in 1910, about double the going rate at rival firms. It succeeded in stopping the massive turnover rate, raised productivity, lowered overall labor costs and helped to propel the Model T to industry dominance. By the 1920s, however, Ford's formula of cheap cars with few options fell behind General Motors, which emphasized upscale quality and variety, and provided financing for car buyers.
The development of the automobile industry led to rising demands for labor, which were filled by huge numbers of newcomers from Europe. Between 1900 and 1930, the city's population soared from 265,000 to over 1.5 million, pushing the boundaries of the city outward. The population boom led to the construction of apartment buildings across the city, aimed at the middle-class auto worker. These include the Somerset Apartments (1922), the Garden Court Apartments (1915), and the Manchester Apartments (1915).
The rise of the automobile also required rethinking transportation within the city. The Chestnut Street-Grand Trunk Railroad bridge (1929) was a result of a grade separation that unsnarled train and automobile traffic. The Fort Street-Pleasant Street and Norfolk & Western Railroad Viaduct (1928) was a product of the same program, routing trucking traffic over the train traffic. And the West Jefferson Avenue-Rouge River Bridge (1922) allowed the Rouge River to be expanded for barge traffic.
Reinhold Niebuhr, a German-American Protestant minister trained at Yale Divinity School became nationally famous as a Detroit minister who attacked the KKK, which was strong among white Protestants in the city. In an era when Henry Ford was an American icon, Niebuhr attracted national attention by criticizing the auto industry. He preached the Social Gospel, attacking what he considered the brutalization and insecurity of Ford workers. Niebuhr had moved to the left and was troubled by the demoralizing effects of industrialism on workers. He became an outspoken critic of Ford and allowed union organizers to use his pulpit to expound their message of workers' rights. Niebuhr attacked poor conditions created by the assembly lines and erratic employment practices.
Niebuhr rejected the liberal optimism that prevailed in the 1920s. He wrote in his diary:
The historian Ronald H. Stone thinks that Niebuhr never talked to the assembly line workers (many of his parishioners were skilled craftsmen) but projected feelings onto them after discussions with Rev. Samuel Marquis. As some studies of assembly line workers have shown, the work may have been dull, but workers had complex motivations and could find ways to make meaning of their experiences; many boasted about their jobs and tried hard to place their sons on the assembly line. Ford tried but failed to control work habits.
Sociologists who interviewed workers concluded that they were more interested in controlling their home lives than their work lives. The Ford solution was welfare capitalism, paying relatively high wages with added benefits, such as vacations and retirement, that reduced turnover and appealed primarily to family men. Link and Link conclude that by tying half a man's wages to the company's profit, Ford managers offered "a highly successful wage incentive plan that simultaneously increased job satisfaction and raised the productivity of labor."
At the beginning of the 20th century, older Gilded Age areas such as Brush Park began to decline & newer upscale neighborhoods sprang-up, including the Boston-Edison, Indian Village, and Palmer Woods. Woodward Avenue neighborhoods (such as the Warren-Prentis Historic District and the Willis-Selden Historic District) became mixed with apartments and commercial buildings. Many architecturally and historically significant churches and cathedrals arose during this period throughout the city's neighborhoods.
Automobile wealth along with educational & technological advancements led to a boom in downtown Detroit business, and the construction of a collection of early 20th century skyscrapers. The most notable of these are the Art Deco National Historic Landmark Guardian Building (1928) and The Fisher Building (1928). Many renowned architects including Albert Kahn, Wirt C. Rowland, and others designed and built a number of the cities skyscrapers and landmarks.
Shopping districts sprang up along Park Avenue, Broadway, and Woodward. In 1881, Joseph Lowthian Hudson opened a small men's clothing store in Detroit. After 10 years he had 8 stores in the midwest and was the most profitable clothing retailer in the country. In 1893, he began construction of J. L. Hudson Department Store at Gratiot and Farmer streets in Detroit. The store grew over the years and a 25-story tower was added in 1928. The final section was a 12-story addition in 1946, giving the entire complex 49 acres (20 ha) of floor space.
The development of the automobile industry led to a massive increase in industrial production in the city. This in turn led to rising demands for labor, which were filled by large waves of immigrants from Europe and Canada. The city's population increased more than sixfold during the first half of the 20th century, fed largely by this influx who worked in the burgeoning automobile industry and opened neighborhood shops.
Greek immigration began in the late 1890s, and peaked in 1910-14. They came as peasants from the villages and became peddlers, grocers and restauranteurs, concentrating in the Greektown neighborhood. Keenly attuned to regionalism and political factionalism in Greece, the community in Detroit was split into numerous small groupings. As Americanization proceeded, the family structure became much less patriarchal, while retaining strong affiliations with the Greek Orthodox Church. A wave of Italian immigrants arrived in 1890-1914. Most newcomers came from Europe or Canada, but there also were blacks from the South. Ford and Pullman were among the few major employers who welcomed black workers.
Detroit expanded its borders exponentially annexing all or part of the incorporated villages of Woodmere (1905), Delray (1905), Fairview (1907), St. Clair Heights (1918), and Warrendale (1925) as well as thousands of acres of land in the surrounding townships. Nevertheless there remained several legally separate cities that formed enclaves inside the city limites, such as Hamtramck and Highland Park. By the 1930s, Poles became a large immigrant group with more than 66,000 Poles residing in Detroit at the time. Between 1900 and 1930, the city's population soared from 265,000 to over 1.5 million. During World War II, there was a large influx of whites from Appalachia and blacks from the rural South. Arabs (especially Palestinians) arrived in large numbers after 1970.
The Jewish community grew to about 34,000 by 1914, with new arrivals from Eastern Europe. There was little anti-Semitism, however there was considerable tension between the older established German Jews, and the poor new immigrants.
Local politics from the 1870 to the 1910s had been influenced by ethnics, especially German Americans and Irish Catholics who controlled the Democratic Party. This changed after 1910 as the old-stock Protestant business leaders, especially from the automobile industry, led a Progressive Era crusade for efficiency, and elected their own men to office, typified by James J. Couzens (mayor, 1919–22, US Senator, 1922–36). The critical change took place in 1918 when the voters changed the Common Council from a 42-man body elected on a partisan basis from 21 wards, to a nine-man unit, elected on a non-partisan basis from the city at-large. The ethnics (especially the Germans) and the Democrats lost their political base. After 1930, however, the Democratic party rebuilt its strength, formed an alliance with the United Auto Workers union and restored the leadership of the ethnics, as typified by Frank Murphy (mayor 1930-33, governor 1937-39). Mayors Jerome Cavanagh (1962–70) and Roman Gribbs (1970-74) were the last of the white ethnic mayors. The election of Coleman Young (1974–93) as mayor in 1974 brought to power a new generation of black leaders who represented the city's new majority.
Most young women took jobs before marriage, then quit. Before the growth of high schools after 1900, most women left school after the 8th grade at about age 15. Ciani (2005) shows that type of work they did reflected their ethnicity and marital status. Black mothers often chose day labor, usually as domestic servants, because of the flexibility it afforded. Most mothers receiving pensions were white and sought work only when necessary.
Nursing became professionalized in the late 19th century, opening a new middle-class career for talented young women of all social backgrounds. The School of Nursing at Detroit's Harper Hospital, begun in 1884, was a national leader. Its graduates worked at the hospital and also in institutions, public health services, as private duty nurses, and volunteered for duty at military hospitals during the Spanish–American War and the two world wars.
In the early 20th century, the middle-class women of the Detroit Federation of Women's Clubs' (DFWC) promoted civic mindedness within the context of traditional gender roles. Most of them were married to prominent business and professional leaders. Issues of public health, sanitation, and public safety were of vital concern to all families. The DFWC pressured city leaders to provide adequate education and sanitation facilities, safe food handling, and traffic safety. They did not form coalitions with working class or ethnic women, nor labor unions.
After the 1928 presidential campaign of Catholic Al Smith, the Democrats mobilize large number of Polish and other Catholic ethnics to make their comeback. Although the election for mayor was nonpartisan, the Democrats rallied behind Judge Frank Murphy, who served as mayor 1930-33. The Great Depression was devastating for Detroit, as sales of automobiles plunged and there were large-scale layoffs at all industrial enterprises. Murphy insisted that no one would go hungry, and set up the Mayor's Unemployment, Committee that set up relief soup kitchens and potato gardens. In 1933 Murphy resigned, and Frank Couzens was elected mayor, serving until 1938. He was the son of Republican U.S. Senator James Couzens, who had been mayor in 1919-22. In 1933 the city was in a financial crisis, as tax receipts had plunged and welfare spending had skyrocketed. The city had defaulted on its bond payments and had to use promissory notes (" script") to pay teachers, policemen and other employees. Couzens restored the city's financial credibility by cutting the debt and balancing the budget. He obtained large sums of federal relief money, and upgraded the street-lighting program and the sewage system.
With the factories came high-profile labor unions in the 1930s such as the United Auto Workers which initiated disputes with manufacturers. The labor activism during those years increased influence of union leaders in the city such as Jimmy Hoffa of the Teamsters and Walter Reuther of the autoworkers.
The unionization process in autos was led by CIO organizers. The strongest response came not from semi-skilled assembly line men, but from the militant leadership of skilled tool and die makers and British and Irish ethnics. They had been complacent during the late 1920s but reacted with extreme militancy to the hardships of the depression. Following the success of the sit down strikes at General Motors, non-unionized, semi-skilled workers followed suit in numerous plants in 1937. They were supported by the pro-union mood of the city, the New Deal's permissive political climate, and Governor Frank Murphy's pro-labor sympathies. They won many concessions and formed numerous locals outside the auto industry. Ford, however, successfully resisted unions until 1941.
The entry of the United States into World War II brought tremendous changes to the city. From 1942 to 1945, production of commercial automobiles in the city ceased entirely, as its factories were used instead to construct M5 tanks, jeeps, and B-24 bombers for the Allies. The Guardian Building was converted into a headquarters for wartime production. The city made a major contribution to the Allied war effort; a key element of America's Arsenal of Democracy. Historians note that this accolade was "easily and often corrupted to 'arsehole'" by tired Detroiters waiting in lines everywhere.
The B-24 Liberator, the most produced bomber in history, was used to bomb Germany heavily. Prior to the war, the aviation industry could produce, optimally, one such plane a day at an aircraft plant. By 1943, Ford's plants managed to produce one B-24 an hour at a peak of 600 per month in 24-hour shifts. Many pilots slept on cots waiting for takeoff as the B-24 rolled off the assembly line at Ford's Willow Run facility.
Racial tension grew rapidly in World War II, as high paying jobs brought in tens of thousands of families, despite severe housing shortages. The historian of Detroit's Poles finds that they saw the blacks as "threatening their jobs, homes, communities, and churches." An August 1942 Life article, "Detroit is Dynamite", discussed in detail the city's labor and race issues, stating that "the news from Detroit is bad this summer ... The result is a morale situation which is perhaps the worst in the U.S." Because of the city's importance to the war effort, the article was censored from copies of the magazine sold outside North America. The long-awaited riot exploded in June 1943, as groups of blacks and whites fought it out. The 3-days of street fighting started on Belle Isle, and killed 25 blacks and 9 whites, wounded 433, and destroyed property valued at $2 million. The U.S. Army was called in to restore order.
In economic terms, the postwar years 1945-70 brought high levels of prosperity as the automobile industry had its most prosperous quarter-century.
Although Detroit had a Rapid Transit Commission, it was not popular with the politicians or the public after the strikes of 1946 ended and automobile production resumed. People demanded cars so they could commute from work to spacious houses surrounded by grass instead of riding the trolley to cramped upstairs apartments. During the war, three expressways were built to support the region's war industries. Furthermore, the wartime model of federal, state, and local governments jointly planning and funding expressways gave a successful model for planning and financing more highways. Progress was slow in 1945-47 because of inflation, steel shortages, and the difficulty of building in built-up areas. by the early 1950s highways were in place, and plans were underway to make Detroit a central hub in the forthcoming Interstate Highway System. The new highways had a funding advantage over mass transit because of the availability of federal highway monies coupled with the availability of matching state money. Ultimately, they were paid for by gasoline taxes, which commuters seldom grumbled about.
Other sources indicate the replacement of Detroit's large electric streetcar network with buses & highways was much more controversial. In 1930, Detroit had 30 electric streetcar lines over 534 miles of track. In 1941, a streetcar ran on Woodward Avenue every 60 seconds at peak times. Wartime restrictions on vital war materials such as rubber and gasoline caused particularly heavy use of the streetcar system during the 1940s. However, between the end of the war and 1949, the city discontinued half of its 20 streetcar lines. Five more were discontinued in 1951 — three of them switched abruptly to bus lines during a DSR strike. More closings followed until August 1955, when Mayor Albert Cobo, who promoted freeway construction as the way of the future, urged City Council to sell the city's recently purchased fleet of modern streetcars to Mexico City. It was a controversial move. A newspaper poll showed that Detroiters, by a margin of 3-to-1, opposed the switch to buses. Some even jeered the sunken freeways Cobo championed, dubbing them "Cobo canals." "A lot of people were against the decision... A common complaint was about the sale of the [new] cars, that the city didn't get its money's worth. Of course, the city had an answer for anything. ..." On April 8, 1956, the last streetcar in Detroit rolled down Woodward Avenue. After less than 10 years in service, Detroit's fleet of streamlined streetcars was loaded on railcars and shipped to Mexico City, where they ran for another 30 years.
The Hudson's department store, the second largest in the nation, realized that the limited parking space at its downtown skyscraper would increasingly be a problem for its customers. The solution in 1954 was to open the Northland Center in nearby Southfield, just beyond the city limits. It was the largest suburban shopping center in the world, and quickly became the main shopping destination for northern and western Detroit, and for much of the suburbs. By 1961 the downtown skyscraper accounted for only half of Hudson's sales; it closed in 1986. The Hudson's name would latter be discarded all together. The remaining Hudsons were first rebranded as branches of Chicago's flagship Marshall Field's State Street, and later rebranded again as branches of New York City's flagship Macy's Herald Square.
Ethnic whites enjoyed high wages and suburban life styles. Blacks comprised 4% of the auto labor force in 1942, 15% by the war's end; they held their own and were at 16% by 1960. They started in unskilled jobs, making them susceptible to layoffs and to replacement when automation came. The powerful United Auto Workers union championed state and federal civil rights legislation, but was in no hurry to advance blacks in the union hierarchy. Nevertheless a large well-paid middle class black community emerged; like their white counterparts, they wanted to own single family homes, fought for respectability, and left the blight and crime of the slums as fast as possible for outlying districts and suburbs.
By 1945, Detroit was running out of space for new factories; tight-knit home-owning neighborhoods rejected the notion of tearing out housing to make room for factories. There was plenty of space out in the suburbs, and that is where the factories had to locate. The proposals of liberal UAW leaders such as Walter Reuther for urban redevelopment did not please the UAW's largely white, conservative membership. The members repeatedly voted for conservative mayoral candidates, such as Republicans Albert Cobo (mayor 1950-57) and Louis Miriani (mayor 1957-62), for they protected white neighborhoods from residential integration. Home ownership was not just a very large financial investment, it was also a source of identity for men who remembered the hardships and foreclosures of the Great Depression. Sugrue says that the, "Economically vulnerable homeowners feared, above all, that an influx of blacks would imperil their precarious investments."
The 1970s brought a worldwide energy crisis with high gasoline prices, and for the first time serious competition from imported automobiles. German Volkswagens and Japanese Toyotas posed a growing threat.
Scholars have produced many studies documenting the fall of Detroit from one of the world's premier industrial cities in 1945 to a much smaller, weaker city in the 21st century, struggling to survive against the loss of industry and population, against crime, corruption and poverty. Boyle also blames the big corporations. He summarizes the scholarly consensus in 2001:
In June 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a major speech in Detroit that foreshadowed his "I Have a Dream" speech two months later. In Detroit, King was accompanied by Rev. C. L. Franklin, father of American musician, singer, and songwriter Aretha Franklin. Detroit played a major role in the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, The Model Cities Program was a key component of President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society and War on Poverty. Begun in 1966, it operated five-year long experiments in 150 cities to develop new antipoverty programs and alternative forms of municipal government. The ambitious federal urban aid program succeeded in fostering a new generation of mostly black urban leaders. Detroit was one of the largest Model Cities projects. Mayor Jerome Cavanagh (Mayor 1962—69) was the only elected official to serve on Johnson's task force. Detroit received widespread acclaim for its leadership in the program, which used $490 million to try to turn a nine-square-mile section of the city (with 134,000 inhabitants) into a model city. The city's political and business elite, and city planners, along with the black middle class, wanted the federal funding to assist the economic growth of the entire city. They sought to protect the central business district property values from nearby slums and to construct new revenue-generating structures. However local community organizers and civil rights activists rallied poor residents in opposition to these plans. They said federal renewal funding should be used to replace deteriorating housing stock, whether with new public housing or low-cost housing built by private developers. The Model City program was terminated in Detroit and nationwide in 1974 after major race riots in most of its target cities. Detroit witnessed growing confrontations between the police and inner city black youth, culminating in the massive 12th Street riot in July 1967. Governor George W. Romney ordered the Michigan National Guard into Detroit, and President Johnson sent in U.S. Army troops. The result was 43 dead, 467 injured, over 7,200 arrests, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed. Thousands of small businesses closed permanently or relocated to safer neighborhoods, and the affected district lay in ruins for decades.
Coleman Young, Detroit's first black mayor, explained the long-term impact:
On August 18, 1970, the NAACP filed suit against Michigan state officials, including Governor William Milliken. The original trial began on April 6, 1971, and lasted for 41 days. The NAACP argued that although schools were not officially segregated (white only), the city of Detroit and its surrounding counties had enacted policies to maintain racial segregation in schools. The NAACP also suggested a direct relationship between unfair housing practices (such as redlining) and educational segregation.
District Judge Steven J. Roth held all levels of government accountable for the segregation. The Sixth Circuit Court affirmed some of the decision, withholding judgment on the relationship of housing inequality with education. The Court specified that it was the state's responsibility to integrate across the segregated metropolitan area.
The Governor and other accused officials appealed to the Supreme Court, which took up the case on February 27, 1974. The subsequent Milliken v. Bradley decision would come to have enormous national impact. According to Gary Orfield and Susan E. Eaton in their 1996 book Dismantling Desegregation, the “Supreme Court’s failure to examine the housing underpinnings of metropolitan segregation” in Milliken made desegregation “almost impossible” in northern metropolitan areas. “Suburbs were protected from desegregation by the courts ignoring the origin of their racially segregated housing patterns.” “Milliken was perhaps the greatest missed opportunity of that period,” said Myron Orfield, professor of law and director of the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota, “Had that gone the other way, it would have opened the door to fixing nearly all of Detroit’s current problems.” John Mogk, a professor of law and an expert in urban planning at Wayne State University in Detroit says “Everybody thinks that it was the riots [in 1967] that caused the white families to leave. Some people were leaving at that time but, really, it was after Milliken that you saw mass flight to the suburbs. If the case had gone the other way, it is likely that Detroit would not have experienced the steep decline in its tax base that has occurred since then."
Supreme Justice William O. Douglas' dissenting opinion in Miliken held that "there is, so far as the school cases go, no constitutional difference between de facto and de jure segregation. Each school board performs state action for Fourteenth Amendment purposes when it draws the lines that confine it to a given area, when it builds schools at particular sites, or when it allocates students. The creation of the school districts in Metropolitan Detroit either maintained existing segregation or caused additional segregation. Restrictive covenants maintained by state action or inaction build black ghettos... the task of equity is to provide a unitary system for the affected area where, as here, the State washes its hands of its own creations."
While Detroit was still 55 percent white according to the 1970 census, by 1980 whites only made up 34 percent of the population. The decline was even more stark considering that Detroit was 83 percent white at the time of the city's all-time population high in 1950. The departure of middle class whites left blacks in control of a city suffering from an inadequate tax base, too few jobs, and swollen welfare rolls. According to Chafets, "Among the nation’s major cities, Detroit was at or near the top of unemployment, poverty per capita, and infant mortality throughout the 1980s."
In the 1973 mayoral election the polarization was nearly total, as 92% of blacks voted for Coleman Young, while 91% of the whites voted for former police Commissioner John Nichols, although neither appealed to racial issues during the campaign. Although Young had emerged from the far left element in Detroit, he moved to the right after his election. He called an ideological truce and won the support of Detroit's economic elite. The new mayor was energetic in the construction of the Joe Louis Arena, and upgrading the city's mediocre mass transit system. Highly controversial was his using eminent domain to purchase and raze an 465-acre inner-city neighborhood known as Poletown that was home to 3500 people, mostly Polish property owners, in order to make way for a half-billion dollar General Motors Cadillac assembly plant. Rich argues that he pulled money out of the neighborhood to rehabilitate the downtown business district, because "there were no other options." Young tried to rein in the city's largely white police department, whose aggressive tactics angered black voters.
Young was an outspoken advocate for federal funding for Detroit construction projects, and his administration saw the completion of the Renaissance Center, Detroit People Mover, and several other Detroit landmarks. During Young's last two terms there he faced angry opposition from neighborhood activists. He usually prevailed, winning re-election by wide margins in 1977, 1981, 1985 and 1989, for a total of 20 years as mayor, based largely on black votes.
Young was blamed for failing to stem the crime epidemic that Detroit became notorious for in the 1970s and 1980s. Dozens of violent black street gangs gained control of the city's large drug trade, which began with the heroin epidemic of the 1970s and grew into the even larger crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and early 1990s. There were numerous major criminal gangs that were founded in Detroit and dominated the drug trade at various times; most were short-lived. They included The Errol Flynns (east side), Nasty Flynns (later the NF Bangers) and Black Killers and the drug consortiums of the 1980s such as Young Boys Inc., Pony Down, Best Friends, Black Mafia Family and the Chambers Brothers. The Young Boys were innovative, opening franchises in other cities, using youth too young to be prosecuted, promoting brand names, and unleashing extreme brutality to frighten away rivals.
Several times during Young's tenure Detroit was named the arson capital of America, and repeatedly the murder capital of America. Often Detroit was listed by FBI crime statistics as the "most dangerous city in America" during his administration. Crime rates in Detroit peaked in 1991 at more than 2,700 violent crimes per 100,000 people. However, crime continued to be a problem in Detroit long after Young's tenure as mayor ended; according to national statistics the arson rate in Detroit was 6.3 times the national average in 2003 and the murder rate was 5.1 times the national average. In addition, the majority of Detroit residents, including many blacks, have left the city, leaving a glut of abandoned buildings that have become magnets for drugs, arson, and other crime.
Around Halloween, a traditional day for pranks in late October, Detroit youth went on a rampage called "Devil's Night" in the 1980s. A tradition of light-hearted minor vandalism, such as soaping windows, had emerged in the 1930s, but by the 1980s it had become, said Mayor Coleman, "a vision from hell." The arson primarily took place in the inner city, but surrounding suburbs were often affected as well. The crimes became increasingly more destructive. Over 800 fires were set in the peak year 1984, overwhelming the city's fire department. Hundreds of vacant homes across the city were set ablaze by arsonists. The fires continued to happen but the number was sharply reduced by razing thousands of abandoned houses that often were used to sell drugs as well—5,000 in 1989-90 alone. Every year the city mobilizes " Angel's Night," with tens of thousands of volunteers patrolling areas at high risk .
The Detroit area emerged as a major metropolitan region with construction of an extensive freeway system in the 1950s and 1960s which expanded in the ensuing decades. The 1950s, 60s, and 70s witnessed an expansion of the cultural phenomenon of American muscle cars including Camaro, Mustang, and Charger. Automotive designers and business executives such as Bill Mitchell, Lee Iacocca, and John DeLorean rose to prominence for their contributions. Freeways facilitated movement throughout the region with millions of people taking up residence in the suburbs. A desire for newer housing and schools accelerated migration from the city to the suburbs. Commensurate with the shift of population and jobs to its suburbs, the city has had to adjust its role within the larger metropolitan area. Downtown Detroit has seen a resurgence in the 21st century as a business center and entertainment hub with the opening of three casino resort hotels. In 1940, the city of Detroit held about one-third of the state's population, while the metropolitan region currently holds roughly one-half of the state's population. For the 2010 census, the city of Detroit's population was 713,777, while metropolitan Detroit's combined statistical area had a population of 5,218,852. Through much of the 1990s and first decade of the 21st century, the city completed significant revitalizations. Immigration continues to play a role in the region's projected growth with the population of Detroit-Ann Arbor-Flint (CMSA) estimated to be 6,191,000 by 2025.
In the 1990s, the city began to experience a revival, much of it centered in Downtown, Midtown, and New Center. One Detroit Center (1993) arose on the city skyline. Newer downtown residents are predominantly young professionals. The city has three casino resort hotels - MGM Grand Detroit, MotorCity Casino, and Greektown Casino - with one of the larger gaming industry markets in the U.S. New downtown stadiums Comerica Park and Ford Field were constructed for the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions in 2000 and 2002, respectively; this placed the Lions' stadium in the city proper for the first time since 1974. In 2008, the city witnessed grand restorations of the historic Book Cadillac Hotel and the Fort Shelby Hotel. The city has hosted major sporting events - the 2005 MLB All-Star Game, 2006 Super Bowl XL, 2006 World Series, WrestleMania 23 in 2007 and the NCAA Final Four in April 2009 - all of which prompted many improvements to the area.
The city's International Riverfront is a focus of much development which has complemented similar developments in Windsor, Ontario. In 2007, Detroit completed the first major portions of the River Walk, including miles of parks and fountains. The Renaissance Center received a major renovation in 2004. New developments and revitalizations are a mainstay in the city's plan to enhance its economy through tourism. Along the river, upscale condominiums are rising, such as Watermark Detroit. Some city limit signs, particularly on the Dearborn border say "Welcome to Detroit, The Renaissance City Founded 1701".
In 2004, Compuware established its world headquarters in downtown Detroit followed by Quicken Loans in 2010. Significant landmarks such as the Fox Theatre, Orchestra Hall Detroit Opera House, and the Gem Theater have been restored and host concerts, musicals, and plays. The Detroit Institute of Arts completed a major renovation and expansion in 2007. Many downtown centers such as Greektown, Cobo Center and Campus Martius Park, draw patrons and host activities.
In July 2013, Michigan state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr asked a federal judge to place the city of Detroit into bankruptcy protection.
In March 2014 the indebted the municipal water company began cutting off water to homes with unpaid bills over $150, or if the payment was more than 60 days overdue. As of the 15th of July, more than 15,000 homes had been cut off.
Metro: Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA)
Region: Combined Statistical Area (CSA)
For more dates see David Lee Poremba, Detroit in Its World Setting: A Three Hundred Year Chronology, 1701-2001 (2001).
Ten people have been awarded the key to the city of Detroit: