View of Detroit from Belle Isle. (iStock)

Detroit is best known for cars and Motown, but that’s not all the city’s given the world. Detroit’s past is peppered with plenty of firsts and great innovations, proving there is more to the city than meets the eye. Take a look at these Detroit facts, and you’ll see Detroit in an entirely new light.

telephone-old

Can I have your number?

You can thank Detroit for your private phone number. Though the ability to have a private number existed in the late 1800s, they weren’t as popular as party lines. Detroit helped change that. In 1879, it became the first city to assign individual phone numbers, making the party line outdated.
Source: http://www.detroitmi.gov/Visitors/AboutDetroit/FascinatingFacts.aspx

South-Detroit-tshirt

I Spy

Want to look South to Canada instead of North? You’re out of luck unless you’re in Detroit. It’s the only city in the U.S. where you can look South at Canada. Pretty cool, eh?
Source: http://www.detroitmi.gov/Visitors/AboutDetroit/FascinatingFacts.aspx

vernors-drinks

Drink up

Detroit is home to Vernors Ginger Ale, America’s oldest ginger ale brand. It was created by James Vernor, a Detroit pharmacist, in the late 1870s. Legend has it that Vernor crafted a new drink just before the Civil War, but he never got to sell it. He was called to serve in the war in 1862, and he stored his drink in an oak cask. When he came back after the war ended, he found that the keg had transformed his drink. The result was Vernors Ginger Ale.
Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/31/vernors-ginger-ale_n_2049763.html

Better Made Chips

Pass the Chips

One lesser known title Detroit holds is the Potato Chip Capital. On average, Detroiters consume 7 pounds of chips a year. The rest of the country eats about 4 pounds annually.
Source: http://www.bmchips.com/press-releases/merchandise-pr

salt-mine-car

And While You’re at It, Pass the Salt

New York City’s spiel about alligators in the sewers has nothing on Detroit. Located 1,200 feet under the streets of Motor City is an enormous salt mine. Operated by the Detroit Salt Company, the mine sprawls across 1,500 acres and contains more than 100 miles of road. How do you get to the mine? The entrance can be found at 12841 Sanders Street.
Source: http://detroitsalt.com/

jw-westcott

Can Your Post Office Float?

If you live in Detroit, the answer is yes. The city is home to the only floating post office in the United States, the J.W. Westcott II. It started as a simple maritime reporting agency on the Detroit River that informed cargo vessels of the conditions in port, but in 1948, the J.W. Westcott eventually grew to become a full fledged post office. Eventually, it earned the world’s first floating ZIP code – 48222. You can watch it at work here.
Source: http://www.jwwestcott.com/heritage.html

woodward_avenue_detroit

Concrete Jungle

Detroit is well known for its long list of accomplishments in transportation innovation. One of the lesser known dates on that list is 1909, the year the Wayne County Road Commission built America’s first mile of concrete highway. The stretch of road was built at Woodward Avenue between 6 and 7 Mile roads in Detroit.
Source: http://www.michigan.gov/mdot/0,4616,7-151-9620_11154-129682–,00.html

fox-theater

Give My Regards to Detroit

Who needs to go to New York City to see spectacular live performances? The answer: not Detroiters. Detroit’s theater district is the second largest in the country, second only to New York City. Boasting an impressive 13,000 seats within a two-block radius, the theater district in Detroit is a cultural feat.
Source: http://experiencedetroit.com/theatres.htm

cityflag-lg

Taming the Wilderness

Founded on July 24, 1701, Detroit is the oldest city west of the original thirteen colonies on this side of the Mississippi. Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac named the city Detroit, which means “the strait” in French, referring to the Detroit River, which really is a strait between the US and Canada. Over the years, Detroit would exert its influence over the Midwest, shaping the future of the region. Want a bonus Detroit fact? The old fort was at the corner of where Fort and Shelby streets are today, just behind the Penobscot Building and in front of the Federal Courthouse and the new home of the Detroit Free Press and News.
Source: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0108509.html

Where is the point of origin in Detroit?

Where’s Detroit’s point of origin?

Every city has a point of origin … the place all distance measurements begin. Ever wonder how Seven Mile Road or Eight Mile Road got their names? They’re seven and eight miles, respectively, from Campus Martius Park. If you’re interested in seeing the city’s point of origin, head over to the junction of Woodward and Monroe, outside of Fountain Bistro. You’ll find a plaque set into the ground near the fountain naming the place Detroit’s point of origin.
Source: http://www.campusmartiuspark.org/about

Detroit is an amazing city with a storied past and a bright future. Why not get out and see what makes the city so unbelievably incredible? Visit the theater district, the J. W. Westcott II, and the city’s point of origin. When you’re done, you can sip a Vernors and look south to Canada on the beautiful Detroit Riverfront.

Hey there! Like what we do? Get what to know and where to go in your email inbox. Sign up for our free newsletter here. Thanks!

52 COMMENTS

  1. Love the Detroit history that has been posted. I was born and raised in Hamtramck and still consider Detroit my home even though I have been away for many, many years.

    • Hi Pat,
      I moved to the Detroit area a few months ago, and I’ve had a blast learning about how awesome the city is. There are so many neat activities to do here, and the people are great! Thanks for reading.

      • Thanks for the great article. I left Detroit in the 60’s and I still miss that great City.
        Here in Florida though, we have better weather most of the time.

  2. Better check those facts, Santa Fe was founded almost 100 years before Detroit and there are many US cities north of Detroit and therefore north of Windsor Ontario including Buffalo, Milwaukee, Rochester, Seattle, Minneapolis, etc etc…

    I spotted 2 facts that were easy to refute, makes me wonder How many other facts are incorrect.

    • Of course there are many cities in the US north of Canada. This article states that you can actually stand in Detroit and see with your own eyes Canada south of you.

    • Hey Jeff,
      Thanks for reading and commenting! Yes, the Spaniards founded Santa Fe (coincidentally the oldest capital city in the U.S.) between 1607 and 1610 (I’ve found sources that differ in their dates), and Detroit was founded in the early 1700s. However, the Spaniards were driven out around 1680 and returned to the area in 1692. I suppose I should have said that Detroit is the oldest city with a significant population East of the Mississippi (while Santa Fe is to the West of it). I believe it’s safe to assume that when the Spaniards and the French took a census they left out the indigenous people living among them.

      For your second point: You can’t look exactly South to Canada from other U.S. cities. You’ll end up looking Southwest or Southeast, not true South.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

    • You misread. Detroit is the oldest city west of the original colonies, east of the Mississippi! Detroit is the only city in the US that you look south to Canada. It never said anything about being the northern most city.

        • You can’t stand anywhere in Sault Ste Marie, MI, and look due south to Canada. Unless maybe you are on the very southeastern tip of Sugar Island (MI) and look south to the northwestern tip of St Joseph Island (ON). And that’s a maybe. And it isn’t a city.

  3. I can’t believe that you left out he fact that during prohibition 75% of all the liquor that came into the United States came through detroit.

    • My great-great Uncle Riopelle used to sell whiskey from a fishing shanty in the middle of the Detroit River during Prohibition. My grandmother also used to skate to Windsor from Detroit in those days because the river was not as deep as it is today (wasn’t dredged) so the river would completely freeze over, allowing trucks full of alcohol to drive from Windsor to Detroit and Grosse Pointe when the police weren’t looking.

  4. My father worked for the Grand Trunk Railroad many years ago (as did I) and he would ferry boxcars over the river to and from Canada. Many times gangsters would approach the switchmen regarding the liquor being brought back. They would offer to pay the switchmen to ” look the other way” for illegal booze that they would then sell to the blind pigs and other shady customers. It was a lucrative business to say the least.

  5. I disagree with looking south, You can look south at Canada and directly south not south-west or southeast in Niagra fall.

  6. Also, 8 Mile is called Baseline Road because it was the basis of the Great Midwestern survey. Your farm in Nebraska is measured from there.

  7. Jeff spies, you miss the point. You can look south from Detroit and see Canada. If you can see Canada from Minneapolis, you’ve got the greatest eyesight in history, no matter which direction you look. Ditto for every other city you list, except buffalo, which is east of Ontario, not north. So check your reading comprehension.

  8. Curious how could fail to not mention these tidbits 🙂

    Detroit was incorporated as a city in 1815 and spent the decades leading up to the Civil War as the final U.S. stop on the Underground Railroad. The area also was earning a reputation for, among other things, the manufacturing of cigars and kitchen ranges.

    So why did Detroit become the Motor City instead of the stove-making capital of the world? It’s in large part due to the influence of a farmer’s son named Henry Ford. In 1896, Ford built his first car in Detroit – not an entirely earth-shattering event since the automobile had already been around for a while. It was the method of building cars that he would later devise – the moving assembly line – that put the world on wheels.

    I know you stated besides motown and cars…….but I think its important to mention 🙂

    • There is a display at the Henry Ford Museum which talks about Detroit and the cast iron stove building business….

  9. Sault Ste. Marie, MI was founded in 1668, making it the oldest city west of the Colonies but east of the Mississippi.

  10. Detroit also gave the World the first commercial radio station: “8MK,” which began broadcasting on August 20, 1920 and later became “WWJ.” The station “8MK” was licensed to Michael DeLisle Lyons (my great-uncle), built in the top of the Detroit News building and financed by the Scripps family who were worried radio might replace their newspaper business. On November 2, 1920 KDKA of Pittsburgh, PA got the first federal license and started making claims they were the first station, but Lee Deforest, famed radio pioneer made it clear on several public occasions WWJ was first. Michael DeLisle Lyons later became a Jesuit priest and then came back to the US in 1945 from his missionary work in India and became the supplier of the final piece of our first atomic bomb (beryllium for the triggers). Google “WWJ, a Jesuit and the Bomb,” to read this amazing story.

  11. Détroit is a french name wich synonymous are (passage,pass,sea arm,canal) this information is from a french canadian living in Marieville Québec

  12. Has that stretch of Woodward between 6 and 7 Mile Roads been re-paved since it was built? Seriously, I enjoyed the article and its photos Ardelia; thanks to you for posting it and to those who shared it.

  13. Detroit also had the first Freeway 1942 in the United State’s which was only 5.491 mile long…Davidson Freeway going to Highland Park…

  14. I just recently discovered that Topor’s Pickles are made in Detroit. If you have never had a Topor’s then you are mising out. My family consider them the best pickles you can buy. Now I know they are a local company.

  15. Does anyone remember the huge steel stove that stood just before the entrance to the Belle Isle Bridge by The U.S. Rubber Co…I was fascinated by it when I was little.

  16. I forgot how snarky and passive aggressive you guys are. Been gone to Nashville for almost 4 years. Man I don’t miss those Detroit attitudes, but I do miss a 3 hour ghetto cruise just driving around Detroit and checking everything out routinely.

  17. The most important invention of mankind was created in Detroit and not even listed! What would people do without your beloved coffee maker!

LEAVE A REPLY