Founded in 1701 as "la Ville d'Etroit"—the City at the Straits—Detroit is one of the Midwest's oldest cities. Originally a strategic Native American and French trading post, by the mid-19th century the city was compared to Paris because of its scenic parks and beautiful architecture. The 20th century saw Detroit's evolution into the modern Motor City, the city that put the world on wheels.
With the growth of the auto industry, Detroit and its suburbs spread out across an ever larger geographical area, eventually making it one of the country's largest metropolitan areas. Though primarily known for Motown and motors, Detroit is also one of the world's busiest inland ports and a major steel producer. The Detroit River is linked by steamship to more than 40 countries; vessels ranging from ocean-going freighters to private yachts dock in the city's protected harbor.
Metro Detroit is also notable for its ethnic diversity—visit Hamtramck for its excellent Polish bakeries, Dearborn for its thriving Middle Eastern community, or Mexicantown for its numerous restaurants. The city offers extensive opportunities for shopping, nightlife, and dining. First-time visitors are pleasantly surprised by Detroit's world-class museums, theaters, art galleries, downtown eateries and clubs, well-run parks, and enthusiastic sports-fan culture. Talk with the locals, and you'll get an earful on why Detroit is such a great city. Spend a little time here, and you're likely to agree.
FUN FACTS ABOUT DETROIT
- It’s dubbed the Motor City for a reason. Detroit was home to the first mile of concrete highway, the first four-way three-color traffic light, and the world’s first urban freeway.
- It’s also the site of the Detroit Windsor Tunnel, the first traffic tunnel between two nations. Hi, Canada!
- To get to the D, some Canadians drive north. It’s the only major city in America north of Canada. Crazy, eh?
- They can also use the Ambassador Bridge, which links Windsor and Detroit. It’s the busiest single border crossing in North America.
- Detroiters like their spirits. During Prohibition it’s estimated some 75 percent of illegal liquor supplied to the U.S. was smuggled through the city’s waterways.
- Detroit, a.k.a. the Paris of the Midwest, also boasts the nation’s oldest soda: Vernor’s ginger ale.
- Legend has it that the refreshment was created by accident. Detroit pharmacist James Vernor crafted a new drink, and then was called to serve in the Civil War in 1862. He stored the beverage in an oak cask—when he came back he learned the keg had transformed it.
- Mixing the popular sip with vanilla ice cream makes a Boston Cooler—a drink named for a Boulevard in Detroit, not the Massachusetts city.
- Detroit’s 987-acre Belle Isle Park—which has a golf course, museum, basketball courts, and baseball fields—is the largest island park in the United States.
- The 313 is a bit salty—1,200 feet underneath Detroit there are 1,400 acres of salt mines. Operated by the Detroit Salt Company, the mine contains more than 100 miles of road.
- The city also ranks first in the nation in potato chip consumption per capita.
- In 1959 Berry Gordy Jr. developed a little outfit called Motown Records in the city. Are you a fan of Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross or Stevie Wonder? You’re welcome.
- A few other musicians call the Detroit area home. See: Madonna, Aretha Franklin, Kid Rock, Aaliyah, The White Stripes and, yes, Eminem.
- The city has also been cited as the birthplace of techno music.
- And its theater district is the second largest in the country—bested only by New York City.
- Detroit’s J.W. Westcott is America’s only floating zip code. The boat, docked on the Detroit River, delivers mail to other vessels in the area.
- The D is also home to WWJ (formerly 8MK), thought to be the first radio station to broadcast regular news reports. It went on air in 1920.
- In 1899 Sebastian S. Kresge opened a five-and-ten-cent store on Detroit’s Woodward Avenue. He later went on to open a small shop he dubbed K Mart.
- The 72-floor Marriott at the Renaissance Center in Detroit is the tallest hotel in North America. When it opened in 1977, it was the tallest in the world.
- But it may never house fans of the Olympics. The city has made seven unsuccessful bids for the summer games —the most by any city in the world never to host the event.
- Sorry, Journey fans, there is no such thing as South Detroit. When Steve Perry was penning “Don’t Stop Believin’” he just thought it sounded good.
- You can bowl Detroiters over. The city has the most registered bowlers anywhere in the United States.
- Really, they’re just big on fun and games. Home to the Tigers, Pistons, Red Wings and Lions, Detroit was also the site of the country’s first national billiards championship in 1859.
- It was once home to the world’s largest stove. But the 15-ton oak stove replica was destroyed in a 2011 fire.
- The official motto of Detroit: Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus, which is Latin for “We hope for better things; it shall rise from the ashes.”