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Detroit History

Detroit is the largest city in Michigan and the seat of Wayne County. A sprawling metropolis situated on the Detroit River, the city is perhaps best known for its automobiles and its music. The presence of the Big Three (General Motors, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler) has given Detroit a worldwide reputation as an automotive center and earned the city its familiar monikers, "Motor City" and "Motown." The city of Detroit was also the birthplace of the distinctive Motown Sound, an African-American musical style popularized by Detroit's own Motown Records.

Founded in 1701 as a French outpost and fur-trading center on the bank of Rivière du Détroit("River of the Strait"), this settlement fell into British hands in 1760, at the end of the French and Indian War. The Ottawa, who had been allied with the French, laid siege to Fort Detroit during Chief Pontiac's ill-fated rebellion. The Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War in 1783, stipulated that Detroit should pass to the U.S. However, the British remained firmly entrenched there (and in several other forts in the Great Lakes region) in defiance of the treaty. It wasn't until the Jay Treaty, signed in 1796, that the British finally relinquished the territory and Detroit became a holding of the U.S. The settlement fell into British hands again briefly, during the War of 1812, but was recaptured in 1813. The city was officially incorporated in 1815. Prior to the Civil War, Detroit served as an important waypoint in the Underground Railroad, due to its proximity to the Canadian border.

By the turn of the century, Detroit had grown into a prosperous shipping port. However, the city's spectacular success was sealed in 1896, when Henry Ford built his first automobile. In 1904, the first Model T was produced and a number of competing automobile manufacturers sprang up and Detroit became the world's automotive capital. The sheer volume of workers in the automotive factories gave rise to the United Auto Workers, one of the largest labor unions in North America. During World War II, Detroit was responsible for so much of the wartime production effort that President Franklin Roosevelt referred to the city as an "Arsenal of Democracy."

The gas crises of the 1970s took their toll on Detroit, as many Americans made the switch to small cars made by foreign manufacturers. However, the city has been going through redevelopment and revitalization since the 1990s. Postmodern high-rises stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Art Deco skyscrapers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, creating an eclectic and instantly recognizable skyline that centers around the Civic Center and Renaissance Center. The city also boasts an international riverfront (as it's just across the Detroit River from Windsor, Ontario), three major casino hotels (Greektown, MGM Grand, and Motor City Casino), and the third-largest theater district in the U.S. A number of historical mansions are open for touring in the wealthy neighborhood of Grosse Pointe. Belle Isle, the largest island park in the nation, is located in the Detroit River between the U.S. and Canada. The park, home to the Belle Isle Conservatory and the Belle Isle Zoo, was used during World War II as a staging area for U.S. troops bound for Iwo Jima.

The Detroit Historical Museum offers a broad overview of Detroit's heritage, while the Henry Ford Museum and the Motown Museum focus on the more famous aspects of the city's history. Known as the "City of Champions" since the 1930s, Detroit also boasts a proud sports legacy. The city is home to the Detroit Lions (NFL), Detroit Pistons (NBA), Detroit Tigers (MLB), and Detroit Red Wings (NHL). As one might expect from Motor City, Detroit also hosts the Detroit Grand Prix IndyCar races each year, as well as the International Auto Show.

Detroit Postcards