Boxing the Compass: Michigan History and Quick Facts

The month of November marks the anniversary of some important moments in Michigan history, events that have left lasting impressions on both our state and the world.  Coming up this week Wintermitten will share some of those stories, but before we do let’s take a brief look at Michigan history through time.

To gain a better understanding of a group of people, a place, a culture, we need to think about certain aspects of history and major events that have helped form their worldview.  To understand a regional culture we must look at things like weather patterns, natural resources, agriculture, and much more to truly understand how even contemporary politics and entertainment and holidays have been enculturated into a viewpoint or ideology.  Like points on a compass, historical events can act as a map, a navigational tool, to better understand a culture, group, or way of thinking. 

A compass rose, sometimes called a windrose, is a figure on a compass, map, nautical chart or monument used to display the orientation of the cardinal directions — North, East, South and West – and their intermediate points. via wikipedia

On a traditional compass rose there are thirty-two directional points.  Naming all 32 points on the rose is called “boxing the compass”.  Modern compasses show two rings, a smaller inner circle set inside a larger outer circle.

The outside ring denotes true cardinal directions while the smaller inside ring denotes magnetic cardinal directions.  

The larger outer ring can be seen as metaphor for the overall culture–representing the natural landscape, geographic location etc–static conditions that are less variable through time.  The inner ring represents more mutable events and ideas–discoveries, inventions, disasters–that form the ideology and lifestyle of a region.  As the Great Lakes state, Michigan is surrounded on three sides by the largest sources of freshwater in the United States and has developed trade, shipping and fishing as part of our economy.  Michigan has a long manufacturing history and is known as the automobile capitol of the world.  Through time we have seen fur trade, race riots, labor uprisings and revolutionary inventions that have helped shape both our people’s viewpoints and in many ways the collective existence of the larger whole of America and beyond.  If we look at important events in Michigan history as points on a compass, we can gain some insight into the broader view of the modern daily culture and understand not only where Michigan has been in the past, but perhaps take  a peek into where we might be heading in the future. 

A brief 32 point timeline of Michigan history:

1.6 million years ago – 10,000 years ago – Pleistocene Epoch.  Last ice age, glacial ice carves out what is now called Michigan.

12,000 – 10,000 years – Michigan’s First People (Paleo-Indian) believed to have migrated from Asia over Bering Land Straight.  10,000 years ago Woodland Nations, Huron, Miami, Council of the Three Fires – Ojibwe, Odawa, Potawatomi (Algonquian language speaking Nations).   

1622 –  Aided by Native American fur traders,  French explorer Etienne Brule and first Europeans reach Michigan at Lake Superior.

1668 – First permanent European settlement founded where Pere Jacques Marquette established Catholic mission at Sault Ste. Marie.

1701 –  Antoine de La Mothe Cadillac founds Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit ( Fort Pontchartrain on-the-straight).

1812 – War of 1812.

1837 – Michigan becomes 26th state in union, bill signed by President Andrew Jackson.

 1842 – Land cession treaty finalized wherein Ojibwe Indians cede lands in Upper Peninsula to federal government.

1846 – Michigan first state in union to abolish death penalty.

1847 – Lansing becomes state capitol.

1855 – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow publishes “The Song of Hiawatha“, set in Michigan’s upper peninsula; the passage of the steamer Illinois through the locks at Sault Ste. Marie marks the opening of unobstructed shipping between Lakes Superior and Huron. 

1866 – Detroit pharmacist James Vernor invents Vernors ginger ale.

1903 – Henry Ford and eleven investors incorporate the Ford Motor Company, Dearborn, MI

1908 – William “Billy” Durant incorporates the General Motors Corporation (and establishes Chevrolet in 1911).

1920 – WWJ Detroit is first radio station in U.S. to broadcast commercial programming.

1925 – Mass oil drilling begins in Saginaw, MI.

1926 – Ernest Hemingway publishes his first novel, Torrents of Spring (Set in Petoskey, MI).

1928 – Malcolm X, civil rights leader, moves to Lansing, MI.

1933 – Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School closes (established in 1893).

1935 – United Auto Workers union (UAW) formed.

1936 – Auto  workers begin spontaneous sit-down strike at General Motors Corporation, Flint, MI.

1942 – First B-24 bomber rolls off the assembly line at the Willow Run Bomber Plant near Ypsilanti.  

1943 – Race riots in Detroit.

1957 – Mackinac Bridge opens to traffic, connecting upper and lower peninsulas; civil rights leader Rosa Parks moves to Michigan.

1963 – Rev. Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. joins “Walk to Freedom” in Detroit, largest civil rights demonstration in nation’s history at that time.  The march culminated with a speech by King that described his “dream” of blacks and whites “walking together hand in hand, free at last.”  It is widely believed this speech was the beginning of King’s “I have a Dream” speech made in Washington later that year. 

1965 – Giant Uniroyal tire landmark erected at the tire company’s I-94 Allen Park sales office (it was originally a ferris wheel at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.)

1967 – Race riots in Detroit.

1973 – Construction of Interstate highway I-75 in Michigan is completed, running from Miami, FL to the upper peninsula of Michigan. 

1977 – Sleeping Bear Dunes becomes a national park.

1987 – Michigan celebrates 150 years of statehood.

2008 – 2010 – Michigan has highest unemployment rate in the country.

2010 – 20,000 barrels of crude oil spilled in Kalamazoo River by Enbridge Energy.

The above timeline is only a small listing of some of the many important events that have helped shape Michigan’s culture and change not just our state, but in many cases, the nation and the world. Labor struggles and civil rights movements and invention and industry have been an undeniable factor in the ever changing landscape of this beautiful state.  Throughout our sometimes painful history, the people of Michigan have built a foundation that transcends our economic and social struggles and survives and improves with each passing generation.

Finally, before we end our lessons today, here are some quick facts about Michigan:

  • The name Michigan is derived from the Indian words “Michi-gama” meaning large lake.
  • Michigan includes:
    • 57,022 sq. mi. of land area (16,439 sq. mi. in the U.P.)
    • 1,194 sq. mi. of inland waters
    • 38,575 sq. mi. of Great Lake water area
    • 3,126 miles of Great Lakes shoreline (more fresh water coastline than any other state)
    • 19,000,000 acres of forest cover 
  • The population is 9,883,640 (2010 Census).
  • Michigan is the only state that touches four of the five Great Lakes. 
  • 40 of Michigan’s 83 counties touch at least one of the Great Lakes.
  • Michigan has more than 11,000 inland lakes and more than 36,000 miles of streams–you are never more than six miles from one of them.

Image of Coat of arms superimposed over the Great Seal

Michigan’s official state motto is:

“Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam Circumspice”

“If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.”

This statement holds many truths. Michigan is a land of great splendors. Full of natural beauty, historical importance and citizens full of hope and energy as we enter into a new millennium. 

But just ask any Michigander and they’ll tell you, the un-official state motto is “if you don’t like the weather, wait a few hours.”

Thanks for reading and we’ll see you soon.  Up next, Chevrolet turns 100 years old, and a deeper look into the story of a famous shipwreck.

Further Reading:,1607,7-153-54463_54466_20840—,00.html


One thought on “Boxing the Compass: Michigan History and Quick Facts

  1. […] syndication Munising Michigan Travel Guide – Upper Peninsula MI Mouse here for Related LinksBoxing the Compass: Michigan History and Quick FactsBe Sociable, Share! This entry was written by admin, posted on March 19, 2011 at 7:59 […]

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