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The Library of Michigan Presents: Michigan in Brief

Michigan Facts
State Symbols
Selected Dates in Michigan History
Further Reading
Web Sites




State Name: Michigan

Name Origin: Derived from the Indian word Michigama, meaning great or large lake.

Nickname: Wolverine State

Statehood: Jan. 26, 1837 (26th)

Capital: Lansing, since 1847; prior to that, Detroit.

State Motto: Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice, which translates, "If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you."

Population: According to U.S. Census Bureau 2018 State Population Estimates, the population of Michigan is 9,995,915.  Michigan is the 10th most populous state in the nation. The Michigan cities with more than 100,000 residents are:

1. Detroit

2. Grand Rapids

3. Warren

4. Sterling Heights

6. Ann Arbor



  • Michigan is the 10th largest state in the Union (combined land and water area).
  • 58,110 square miles of land
  • 1,305 square miles of inland water
  • 38,575 square miles of Great Lakes water area
  • 10,083 inland lakes of greater than 5 acres in surface area

  • 3,288 miles of Great Lakes shoreline
  • Length: 456 miles
  • Width: 386 miles
  • Distance from northwest to southeast corner: 456 miles
  • Highest point:  Mt. Arvon, 1,981 ft above sea level (Baraga County)
  • Lowest point:  Lake Erie Shoreline, 572 ft above sea level
  • Bordering states: Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin as well as the nation of Canada

(from 2017-2018 Michigan Manual)

Number of counties: 83

Members in the U.S. Congress: 16

State Senators: 38

State Representatives: 110

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From Michigan Manual 2017-18.

Flower: Apple Blossom (Joint Resolution 10 of 1897)

Bird: Robin (House Concurrent Resolution 30 of 1931)

Tree: White Pine (Public Act 7 of 1955)

Stone: Petoskey Stone (Public Act 89 of 1965)

Gem: Chlorastrolite (Public Act 56 of 1972)

Fish: Brook Trout (Public Act 5 of 1988)

Soil: Kalkaska Soil Series (Public Act 302 of 1990)

Reptile: Painted Turtle (Public Act 281 of 1995)

Game Mammal: White-tailed Deer (Public Act 15 of 1997)

Wildflower: Dwarf Lake Iris (Public Act 454 of 1998)

Fossil: Mastodon (Public Act 162 of 2002)

Clean Water Symbol: American Lotus Blossom (Public Act 78 of 2004)

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Adopted by the Legislature in 1911, Michigan's flag features the state's Great Seal. Lewis Cass-second governor of the Michigan Territory, from 1813 to 1831-designed the Seal, and it was approved at the 1835 constitutional convention.

The Great Seal depicts Michigan's great animals, with the elk on the left and the moose on the right supporting a shield that reads Tuebor, which translates as "I will protect," referencing Michigan's role as a pioneer state.

The interior of the shield shows a sun rising over a lake, calling attention to a man standing on a peninsula. The figure has his right hand raised, symbolizing peace. He holds a rifle in his left hand, meaning that he also stands ready to defend the state and nation.

Written below the shield is the inscription, Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice, which translates, "If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you."

Above the shield with the American eagle is the motto of the United States, E pluribus unum, which means, "Out of many, one."

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1622: French explorers Étienne Brulé, and his companion Grenoble, are probably the first white men to see Lake Superior.

1668: Fathers Jacques Marquette and Claude Dablon establish the first mission at Sault Ste. Marie.

1701: Detroit is founded as Fort Pontchartrain by Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac.

1715: The French establish Fort Michilimackinac at the Straits of Mackinac.

1760: The French surrender Fort Pontchartrain to the British, ending French rule in Detroit.

1763: During the Indian wars in the area, Pontiac leads a 135-day siege of Detroit. Indians capture all the forts in Michigan, except Detroit.

1787: The (Northwest) Ordinance of 1787 defines the procedure for obtaining statehood in the Northwest Territory, of which Michigan is a part.

1792: Under the British Parliament's Constitutional Act, the first election is held in Michigan.

1796: The British evacuate Detroit and abandon their posts on the Great Lakes.

1805: The Michigan Territory is created, with Detroit designated as the seat of government. William Hull is appointed governor. Fire destroys Detroit.

1812: Detroit and Fort Mackinac are surrendered to the British during the War of 1812.

1813: American forces re-enter Detroit. Lewis Cass is appointed governor of the Michigan Territory.

1819: The Treaty of Saginaw cedes nearly 6 million acres of Indian lands to Michigan settlers. Michigan sends a delegate to Congress.

1828: The Territorial Capitol is built at Detroit for a cost of $24,500.

1835: The Toledo War ensues over the Michigan-Ohio boundary. The area eventually is surrendered in exchange for the western section of the Upper Peninsula. The first constitutional convention is held.  Stevens T. Mason is inaugurated as Governor.

1837: Michigan is admitted to the Union as the 26th state.

1842: Copper mining operations begin near Keweenaw Point.

1844: Iron ore is discovered in the Upper Peninsula at Negaunee.

1846:  The state of Michigan abolished capital punishment for all murders and other common crimes.

1847: With the passage of Public Act 60, the state capitol is relocated to Lansing Township, presently Lansing.

1855: The ship canal at Sault Ste. Marie opens.

1861-1865: More than 90,000 Michigan men are mustered into service during the Civil War.

1879: The new Capitol is dedicated in Lansing; the structure cost $1,510,130.

1908: Ford begins manufacturing the Model T.

1910: The first primary election in Michigan is held.

1919: A state constitutional amendment granting suffrage to Michigan women is passed.

1920: Detroit's WWJ begins commercial broadcasting of regular programs, the first such radio station in the United States.

1930: The Detroit-Windsor Tunnel opens to automobile traffic.

1935: The United Automobile Workers of America is organized in Detroit.

1941: Auto plants are converted for the production of war materials, and Michigan becomes known as the "Arsenal of Democracy."

1957: The five-mile Mackinac Bridge opens Nov. 1.

1963: Michigan's fourth Constitution is ratified at the April election.

1967: Riots erupt in Detroit amid racial tensions.

1987: Michigan celebrates 150 years of statehood.

1992: The Capitol is fully restored and rededicated. A constitutional amendment is adopted to limit the number of terms an official can serve as governor or as a federal or state senator or representative.

2001: Detroit celebrates its 300th anniversary.

2002: Jennifer M. Granholm becomes Michigan's first woman governor.

2009: A credit crisis of 2008 triggers a severe economic downturn, causing the bankruptcy of General Motors and Chrysler.

2010: Michigan's resident population declines between 2000 and 2010 to 9,888,635, resulting in the loss of one Congressional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

2013: Representative John D. Dingell, Jr. is honored as the longest serving member in the history of the U.S. Congress.  The city of Detroit files for bankruptcy protection in U.S. District Court. It is the largest municipality in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy.

2014: Flint switched drinking water sources from Detroit's system to the Flint river, causing the leakage of toxic amounts of lead from pipes throughout the city.  Fallout from the Flint Water Crisis continues today in 2019.

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Following the prehistoric inhabitants, Michigan's residents were the tribal groups of Ojibwa, Ottawa and Potawatomi Native Americans. The first Europeans were the French and French-Canadians in the 1600s and early 1700s, followed by the British in the late 1700s. The great waves of immigration into Michigan began in the early 1800s, as New Englanders moved into Michigan's southern counties in large numbers. Attracted to the state's lumber, mining and automobile industries, at least 40 national and ethnic groups arrived in sizeable numbers during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Dutch, Germans and Poles were among the largest of these later groups.

In more recent migrations many African-Americans and people of Asians, Near Eastern or Hispanic origin have made Michigan their home. So many ethnic groups are present in the state that weekly ethnic festivals in Detroit begin in May and continue through September each year.

Today's population of 9,995,915 is a highly centralized one. According to 2018 U.S. Census Population Estimates:

  • Thirty-five of the 83 counties have populations of more than 50,000.
  • Twenty Michigan counties have more than 100,000 people.
  • All but two of these counties are in the southern half of the Lower Peninsula.
  • Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties alone account for almost 40 percent of the state's population.
  • The 15 counties of the Upper Peninsula comprise just over 3% of the total population at 301,151.

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Three of Michigan's major industries are manufacturing, tourism and agriculture. The total workers in the Michigan labor force number 4.9 million people. (2005-2009 American Community Survey estimate).


Known as the nation's automotive capital, Michigan has a rich history with the Big Three automakers, General Motors Corp., Chrysler LLC and Ford Motor Co., which all began in Michigan in the first quarter of the 20th century. Michigan is home to 17% of total U.S. vehicle production and 11%  of North American vehicle production.  Michigan is home to two world-class autonomous vehicle testing sites, leading the nation in testing and development of next-generation transportation technology. (Michigan Economic Development Corporation).

Michigan also manufactures a wide variety of other products, including fabricated metals, machinery,  food and beverage products, and chemicals.  Manufacturing employs more than 629,000 people, and contributes 19% of the state's gross domestic product. (National Association of Manufacturers).



The tourist business is one of Michigan's largest income producers. In 2017, travelers in Michigan spent about $22.3 billion, generating $3.6 billion in state and local taxes, and accounting for 199,900 jobs statewide (U.S. Travel Association, At one time, tourism was primarily a summer season activity, along with several weeks of bird and deer hunting in the fall, but tourism has developed into a yearlong industry. Winter brings skiing, skating, ice fishing, small game hunting and snowmobiling. Spring still means trout and bass fishing and getting the boat ready for summer and its traditional sports.

Sightseeing at both historic and natural landmarks continues to increase. Among the best known tourist attractions are:


The food and agriculture industry contributes $104.7 billion annually to Michigan's economy.   It also makes up a large portion of the state's workforce with approximately 805,000 workers, which accounts for about 17 percent of the state's total employment. In spite of urban expansion into farm acres, the state still has about 47,600  farms totaling just under 10 million acres.  Michigan produces more than 300 commodities on a commercial basis, and leads the nation in production of asparagus; black and cranberry beans; cucumbers; tart cherries; Niagara grapes; and
squash, second in diversity only to California.

Michigan  ranks third nationwide in the production of Christmas trees, contributing  1.55 million fresh Christmas trees to the national market annually.  Growers sell more than 9 varieties of tree , generating an annual farm gate value of more than $27 million.

Dairy is another significan aspect of Michigan agriculture, with dairy farms contributing $15.7 billion to the state's economy.  In 2018, it ranked first in the nation in production of milk per cow. Its 424,000 dairy cows, distributed across nearly 1,800 dairy farms, each produced an average 26,340 pounds of milk per year. Michigan ranked fifth in the nation for total production, and its 11.17 billion pounds of milk were produced at a value of $1.66 billion, ranking sixth in the U.S.

Livestock in Michigan at the close of 2018 totaled 1,160,000 cattle; 80,000 sheep and lambs; and 1,190,000 hogs and pigs. In 2007, the state's sheep yielded 360,000 pounds of wool, valuing $216,000 in production.  (Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural DevelopmentUSDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service)

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Michigan's government follows the federal plan of three branches-executive, legislative and judicial. In both the executive and legislative branches, elected state officials are limited in the number of terms they can serve in particular positions.

Executive Branch
The Constitution of 1963 provided that the chief executive officer, the governor (and lieutenant governor), be elected for four years, and that the executive branch be grouped into no more than 20 administrative departments. The governor's chief responsibility is to enforce state laws and maintain order. The governor submits a suggested legislative program and a proposed budget to the Legislature, and appoints certain officials to various state boards and commissions with the consent of the Senate. Most state employees work under a comprehensive Civil Service plan.

Legislative Branch
Michigan's bicameral legislature consists of a 38-member Senate elected for four-year terms and a 110-member House of Representatives elected for two-year terms. The lieutenant governor acts as president of the Senate; members of the majority party elect the Speaker of the House. Because of the large number of bills introduced at each session, the Legislature exercises its law-making function through a system of standing committees and with the assistance of the bipartisan legislative council.

Judicial Branch
The State Supreme Court is Michigan's highest court. It has final jurisdiction over other courts in the state. Immediately below it is the Court of Appeals, established by the Constitution of 1963 as an intermediate appellate court between the Supreme Court and lower courts.

Circuit courts have original jurisdiction over major civil and criminal cases. The state is divided into 57 judicial circuits, each of which consists of from one to four counties. There are 78 probate courts to handle juvenile matters, guardianships, wills and estates. Courts of limited jurisdiction such as the Court of Claims were provided for in the Constitution of 1963. Public Act 154 of 1968 established a district court system that replaced justices of the peace and most municipal courts. There are 105 district courts and four municipal courts (Michigan Manual 2009-2010).

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Mineral Resources

From 1845 to 1877, Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula mines produced more native copper ore than any other mining area in North America. The quantity of Michigan's native copper was unsurpassed in the world. These easily mined copper deposits have been greatly exhausted, and Michigan's last copper mine closed in October 1995. Michigan's Lake Superior region has geologic formations containing large concentrations of iron. Most surface iron has been depleted, requiring the use of underground mines. Today, only one company performs the costly extraction of iron from two mines in the Upper Peninsula (The Mitten, April 2005).

In 2014, 62 of Michigan's 83 counties produced oil and/or natural gas. Michigan has almost 1.1 trillion cubic feet of underground natural gas storage 
capacity, more than any other state and more than one-ninth of the nation's total.  The Antrim Gas Field in Michigan's Lower Peninsula is one of the nation's top 100 natural gas fields when ranked by proved reserves. In 2018 Michigan produced 5.4 million barrels of crude oil, and 97 billion cubic feet of natural gas in 2017.(U.S. Energy Information Administration).

Water Resources

Michigan's water resources provide the state with a mild climate, a ready source of power and transportation, and a growing tourist industry. The state's two peninsulas are almost surrounded by four of the Great Lakes: Huron, Michigan, Erie and Superior. Michigan has 11,037 inland lakes:

  • The largest is Houghton Lake, with an area of 31.3 square miles.
  • Torch Lake, the second largest, is also the deepest, reaching a 297-foot depth at one point.
  • Lake Gogebic is the largest lake in the Upper Peninsula.

Michigan has 36,350 miles of rivers, most of which are not very long. Generally they flow through shallow valleys. In the Lower Peninsula, there are many rapids but only one major waterfall, Ocqueoc Falls. In the Upper Peninsula, where the streams flow over upthrust rocky strata, there are about 150 waterfalls, the largest being Tahquamenon Falls.

The Saginaw River is only 20 miles long, but with its tributaries is the largest drainage system in the state. The Grand River has the second largest drainage basin and is the longest in actual length. Other important streams include the Muskegon and the AuSable rivers, famed in logging days and now noted fishing streams. Three short rivers are vital to the economy of the state as they carry goods among the Great Lakes: Detroit River, St. Clair River and St. Mary's River, where the Soo Locks are located.


About 50 percent of the state's land is covered with 19.3 million acres of forests, of which the most common types are maple-beech, aspen-birch, oak-hickory, elm-ash-soft maple and pine (DNR 2008 Michigan Forest Health Highlights, Michigan State University). Michigan ranks fifth nationally in timberland - forest lands capable of producing commercial timber, which accounts for 18.6 million acres of the state's forest land (USDA Forest Service). Hardwoods make up 72 percent of Michigan's timberland, and maple is the predominant hardwood species. From an economic perspective, forest-related industries, manufacturing, recreation and tourism support 200,000 jobs statewide and contribute about $12 billion annually to the state's economy. Additionally, forests contribute to Michigan's clean air and water, and limit soil erosion.


Michigan's wildlife has been, and continues to be, a major asset of the state. Historically, fur-bearing animals attracted French and British fur traders to Michigan, while the big and small game animals provided food and clothing for the pioneers.

Michigan still has a wealth of big game, small game, fowl and fish. The white-tailed deer is the most common big-game animal throughout Michigan. Elk and black bear occur in the northern part of the state, and gray wolves can be found in the Upper Peninsula. Popular small game animals include rabbits, hares and squirrels.

Michigan hosts over 300 species of birds, with an additional 100 species as occasional visitors to the state. Ruffed grouse, wild turkey, ring-necked pheasant and woodcock are important upland game birds. Ducks and geese are also important game birds. The endangered Kirtland's warbler calls Michigan's jack pine forests home in the summertime, while the endangered piping plover nests in the summer on Michigan's sandy shorelines.

Because of its Great Lakes location and large number of lakes and streams, Michigan has an abundance of fish. Of the 154 species of fish in Michigan, about 30 species are pursued for sport. Lake trout and whitefish were important food sources for early Native Americans, and continue to be an important fishery today. Brook, brown and rainbow trout are popular game fish along with Coho, Chinook and Atlantic salmon, walleye, northern pike and bass.

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Michigan's educational system dates back to its first Constitution, which provided for a superintendent to develop a state system of public education. That system of primary grades, grammar schools, high schools and state universities continues in Michigan education.

Education is compulsory for Michigan children ages 6 to 16. In fall 2005, there were 1,685,484 pupils enrolled in 575 public elementary and secondary school districts with 105,085 classroom teachers (QED State School Guide, 23rd ed.).

The state university system dates to territorial days when the University of Michigan was chartered in 1817 in Detroit. It was re-established in Ann Arbor in 1837. In 1855, Michigan pioneered in agricultural education when it started a state agricultural college (now Michigan State University). It was the first land-grant college under the Morrill Act.

The state's 15 public, four-year higher education institutions enrolled 287,573 students in fall 2006, while the 28 public community colleges enrolled 215,047 students in fall 2005 (Michigan Manual). Michigan's 56 private colleges reported 119,089 students in fall 2007 (National Center for Education Statistics).

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  • Cleland, Charles E. Rites of Conquest: The History and Culture of Michigan's Native Americans. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1992.
    Mich E 78 .M6 C57 1992
  • Dunbar, Willis F., and George S. May. Michigan: A History of the Wolverine State. 3rd rev. ed. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995.
    Mich F 566 .D84 1995
  • Gavrilovich, Peter, and Bill McGraw, eds. Detroit Almanac: 300 Years of Life in the Motor City. Detroit: Detroit Free Press, 2000.
    Mich F 574 .D4 D4 2000
  • Kilar, Jeremy W. Michigan's Lumbertowns: Lumbermen and Laborers in Saginaw, Bay City, and Muskegon, 1870-1905. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1990.
    Mich HD 9757.M5 K54 1990
  • Lankton, Larry D. Cradle to Grave: Life, Work and Death at the Lake Superior Copper Mines. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
    Mich HD 9539.C7 U548 1991
  • Massie, Larry B. Michigan Memories: True Stories From Two Peninsulas' Past. Allegan Forest, MI: Priscilla Press, 1994.
    Mich F 566 .M324 1994
  • May, George S. A Most Unique Machine: The Michigan Origin of the American Automobile Industry. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975.
    Mich HD 9710 .U53 M434 1975
  • Romig, Walter. Michigan Place Names: The History of the Founding and the Naming of More Than Five Thousand Past and Present Michigan Communities. Detroit: Wayne State University, 1986.
    Mich F 564 .R6 1984
  • Sommers, Lawrence M. Atlas of Michigan. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 1977.
    Mich G 1410 .A85 1977z
  • Weeks, George. Stewards of the State: The Governors of Michigan. 2nd rev. ed. Ann Arbor, MI: Historical Society of Michigan, 1991.
    Mich F 565 .W43 1991
  • Williams, Frederick D. Michigan Soldiers in the Civil War. 5th ed. Lansing, MI: Michigan Historical Center, 2002.
    Mich Docs E 514 .W5 2002

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Updated 08/02/2019