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History of Detroit, Michigan

Detroit was founded in 1701 when Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac established a fort and settlement on the site. The name means "strait" in French, and is derived from the narrow river connecting Lake St. Clair with Lake Erie in Michigan. Control of the area passed to the British in 1760. It occupied such a strategic position that even though the British were obligated to cede it to the United States under the 1783 Treaty of Paris, they refused to give it up until 1796. Detroit was incorporated as a village in 1802 and became the seat of government for the Michigan Territory when it was formed from the Northwest Territory in 1805. Detroit was completely destroyed by fire in the same year, which gave the citizens the opportunity to re-platt the land in a better manner afterwards. When the War of 1812 broke out, Detroit's position was indefensible and the city surrendered to the British on August 16, 1812. General Harrison's attempt to recapture Detroit the following January failed, but after Commodore Perry's victory on Lake Erie in September and Harrison's victory at the Thames River in October, American control of Detroit was re-established after a little more than a year of British occupation. General Harrison renamed it Fort Shelby. It was retained after the war but gradually lost its military importance and was abandoned in 1823. Detroit achieved the status of city in 1815 and was the state capital from the time of Michigan's admission to the Union in 1837 until 1847, when the capital was moved to Lansing. Detroit remained largely a commercial center for surrounding agricultural land until the 1870s, when manufacturing began to dominate. Detroit was well positioned to take advantage of the emergence of automobile manufacturing at the start of the 20th century. A number of visionary entrepreneurs designed automobiles that appealed to ordinary Americans, with the result that automobiles became a mass market. Detroit, along with its suburb Allen Park had a trained workforce due to its position in railroad manufacturing, and the city was well located to both receive raw materials and deliver finished automobiles to market. As a result, the greatest concentration of automobile manufacturing in America has consistently been in Detroit. The headquarters of the largest manufacturers have also been in the city. When more favorable federal labor legislation was passed as part of The New Deal, Walter Reuther led the United Auto Workers to success with all of the large automakers. As a result, Detroit became one of the country's most unionized cities and consistently voted Democratic in national elections. The influx of black workers into Detroit's defense plants during World War II created severe racial tensions. Whites were particularly unhappy with blacks moving into their neighborhoods and working next to them on assembly lines. Simmering problems broke out on June 20, 1943, and over a period of several days, mobs of both blacks and whites attacked members of the other race. Federal troops were called in to restore order, but not before 34 people had been killed. In July, 1967, black residents of Detroit rioted. The immediate cause of the riot was a police raid on an after-hours drinking club in a black neighborhood. The police found far more people than expected, yet still attempted to arrest all 82 people on the premises. The deeper cause was the history of police harassment and brutality. Eventually, units of the National Guard and U.S. Army were required to restore order. The weeklong riots resulted in enormous losses: 43 lives and about $45 million in property.