In 1903, he established the Ford Motor Co., and five years later sold his first Model T. By 1913, Ford introduced the first moving assembly line for cars to meet an insatiable demand and set a $5 a day wage to attract the best workers. And by 1918, Model T’s accounted for half of the cars sold in the U.S., and Ford sold 15 million before moving on to newer models.
Today, the Dearborn-based company employs more than 200,000 people at dozens of facilities worldwide, though the American auto industry has had to adjust to global trends and events which for a time decimated the economy of Detroit, the state’s largest city. In 1940, Detroit ranked as the fourth-largest U.S. city, behind New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. In 2015, for the first time since prior to the Civil War, Detroit, with a population of 677,000, was not among the top 20.
This state of 9.9 million reaches far beyond its legendary factories, however, to encompass some of the nation’s most scenic destinations. The unique formation of a state split between Lower and Upper Peninsulas – known to residents as the U.P. – allows it to border four of the five Great Lakes. This gives Michigan the longest freshwater coastline of any state, 3,288 miles, and second-longest coastline of any U.S. state, after Alaska. The Mackinac Bridge, a five-mile span which stood as the world’s longest suspension bridge at its opening in 1957, connects the halves.
With manufacturing and agricultural trade centers in Ohio and Indiana to the south, Detroit’s location on the shore of Lake Erie in the southeast corner of the state has made it a hub of Great Lakes shipping. Other cities along the state’s eastern coast on Lake Huron have made them natural centers for trade as well.
The state’s western coastline along Lake Michigan, lined from south to north with mammoth sand dunes and clear freshwater beaches, is a favorite summer resort for Michiganders, Chicagoans and other Midwesterners. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore features sand towering 450 feet above the lake. Along the northern shore of the U.P., the remote rocky coast of the greatest of Great Lakes, Superior, is a wilderness of pine forest. Its most dramatic outcropping, toward the western end, is Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, a 40-mile expanse of eroded sandstone cliffs as colorful as a painter’s palette.
More than 119 million visitors toured Michigan in 2016, with spending surpassing $23 billion and supporting more than 221,000 jobs. And Grand Rapids, the second largest city with just under 200,000 residents, is rated among the top-20 places to live in the U.S.
For many years, high-wage, union jobs in the automotive industry provided an exceptional standard of living for blue-collar workers in Michigan.. Wages for the state’s manufacturing workers fell in 2016 to their lowest levels in 12 years, with average weekly earnings of $839.12 down $91.07 from the year before. The average hourly wage for manufacturing in Michigan fell from $28 in 2003 to just over $20 in 2016, and the state’s median household income of $52,492 was about 90 percent of the national figure.
The home of the American automobile industry has been buffeted by decades of competition with foreign automakers, a domestic energy crisis in the late 1970s and, most recently, the worst recession since the Great Depression, a 2007 to 2009 slowdown of the American economy that thrust General Motors into bankruptcy. The U.S. government bailed out GM, with a $50 billion investment, and Chrysler Corp., with $12.5 billion. The companies eventually repaid most of their debt to the government, all but about $9 billion, and have rebounded. The government intervention was credited with saving about 1.5 million auto-industry jobs.
As a measure of the rebound, the U.S. auto industry sold more cars and trucks in 2015 than during any prior year – GM leading with 3.1 million vehicles, Ford 2.6 million, and Fiat Chrysler 2.2 million. GM ranks fourth behind Toyota (third),Volkswagen (second) and the Renault-Nissan alliance (first) among the world’s largest automakers.
Close to 177,000 people still are employed in Michigan’s transportation equipment manufacturing sector. Manufacturing nevertheless ranks behind other sectors in Michigan employment, with 566,520 factory jobs counted in 2014 – and a modest gain, totaling 601,610, projected by the state in 2024. Trade, transportation and utilities, professional and business services, health and education and government jobs outranked manufacturing in 2017. The diversification of the economy can be measured in job growth since the recession’s low point in the summer of 2009 – while automaking was “the engine of growth” coming out of the recession, the University of Michigan reports, manufacturing accounts for just one in 12 jobs created during 2016 and 2017.
The state’s unemployment rate has fallen from worst in the nation – more than 14 percent in 2009 – to roughly on par with the rest of the country. The state’s jobless rate averaged around 4.5 percent during 2017, slightly higher than the national average. The median household income, $52,492 in 2016, was below the national average of $57,617.
The Wolverine State has a storied history. The Treaty of Paris granted the Northwest Territory to the U.S. in 1783, but with settlers and Native Americans in the Detroit area siding with the British, it took the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1795 to force the British out and enable the U.S. to take control. In 1837, Michigan gained admission to the Union, and in 1874, John Ward Westcott established a marine company to guide passing ships. By 1919, Henry Ford’s assembly line was turning out more than cars: He developed a process for turning wood scraps from his Model Ts into charcoal briquettes, which he named in honor of his friend and fellow businessman, E.G. Kingsford.
Although Michigan is 75 percent white, leading artists among its black population of 14 percent mostly centered around Detroit has made The Motor City famous in musical circles as well. Motown Records, one of the most successful soul music companies, was founded there. The stars it launched include Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and The Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and The Temptations.
With a state university system led by the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan has one of the nation’s top-10 law schools. Michigan State University is in the capital city of Lansing and Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant.
Michigan’s adults are 70 percent Christian, including 18 percent Catholic, and half the state’s adults say religion is very important in their lives.
Michigan was the only state to lose population in the count of the 2010 Census, the fourth consecutive Census in which the state lost at least one electoral vote. The state voted Republican before the Great Depression and has alternated between parties for a few decades. But Michigan had voted Democratic since 1992, supporting President Barack Obama, until voting narrowly Republican in 2016, supporting Donald Trump. The shift is viewed as a measure of the Republican’s appeal to citizens who have lost the anchor of high-paying manufacturing.