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10 Detroit Facts You Should Know

Submitted by on March 13, 2011 – 3:13 am

Detroit facts

Over the recent decades Detroit has taken on many nicknames including Motown, The Motor City, Hockeytown, Rock City or just simply “The D”. While we are proud of our automotive heritage and music history there are lesser-known facts about Detroit. Here we will explore ten facts every Detroiter, historian, or pop-culture enthusiast should know.

1. First City to Pave a Concrete Road

Historic Woodward Avenue Detroit

In 1909, Wayne County built the first mile of concrete highway in the world on Woodward Avenue between Six and Seven Mile roads. Until then, a surfaced road was gravel, and often a horse was employed to pull a car out of the muddy muck. Road builders from near and afar came to see how concrete stood up under the heavy traffic of that period. It cost $13,537, including $1,000 in state aid.

The success of this experiment led to other transportation-firsts. In 1919 the nation’s first 4-way three color traffic light was installed on the corner of Woodward and Michigan Avenues in Detroit 1. In 1930 the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel was completed making it the first traffic tunnel between two nations. By 1942, the world’s first urban freeway opened to the public, the Davison Freeway.

2. Home to the Ice Cream Soda

ice cream soda detroit

Long before A&W introduced their root-beer float the ice-cream soda was being served to thirsty Detroiters along Boston Boulevard. Many historians claim Detroit’s own Fred Sanders, a confectioner and owner of The Pavilion of Sweets first served the drink to two customers in 1876. A popular drink at the time was the sweet cream soda. One day when the ice delivery truck failed to show Sander’s day-old cream went sour. Improvising, he instead mixed ice cream with the carbonated beverage and hence the drink was born.

vernors ginger aleBy the 1880s the most popular combination for this drink was Ginger Ale with ice cream aka the Boston Cooler; specifically Vernor’s Ginger Ale & Sander’s ice cream. The beverage was named after the Boulevard and not the Massachusetts city. James Vernor’s drugstore located a short distance away made the unique combination seem very natural. Vernor’s produced an intense golden ginger ale, unlike most modern dry ginger ales. Until the 1920s ginger ale was the nation’s most popular choice of carbonated beverage, and Vernor’s happens to be our nation’s oldest soda. Soda connoisseurs still advocate to this day that if you want to taste ginger ale the way it was meant to taste locate a Vernor’s.

3. Supplied 75% of liquor during Prohibition

Detroit prohibitionIn January 1920, the era of Prohibition began in the U.S. The Detroit River, barely one mile across in some places, was a smuggler’s dream. Enterprising smugglers carried cargo beneath boats, rigged mechanical cables across the river and utilized old underground tunnels to transport their illegal bounty. During cold winter months, the river became a highway, as daring smugglers in automobiles made their way across the ice from Canada to the United States.

A number of government agencies, including the U.S. Customs Department, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Michigan State Police and the Detroit Police Department combined forces to patrol the waterways in an effort to stop the smuggling. Despite their efforts, it’s estimated that more than 75% of illegal liquor supplied to the U.S. during prohibition entered the country by way of the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River.

4. First Ever News Radio Broadcast

WWJ Radio Broadcast

Going on air in August 20, 1920, 8MK, later renamed WWJ, is believed to be the first station to broadcast regular news reports. Financed by The Detroit News, 8MK was initially licensed to Michael DeLisle Lyons. He assembled the station in the Detroit News Building. As was common practice in the early days of radio, the Scripps family asked Lyons to register the station in his name in case this rather new technology was only a fad.

Newspaper owners at the time were worried radio might replace newspapers and put them out of business. Almost 100 years later and we’re happy to report both The Detroit News and WWJ Radio still operate today.

5. Only Floating Post Office in the U.S.

JW Westcott II

The J. W. Westcott II docks just South of The Ambassador Bridge along the western shore of the Detroit River. She is America’s only floating ZIP Code [48222]. Delivering over 100 years of “mail-by-the-pail”, the J.W. Westcott Company was originally formed in 1874 by Captain J.W. Westcott to inform passing vessels of changes in orders.

Today the 45-foot vessel’s duties include U.S. mail delivery; freight delivery, storage, forwarding; message service; passenger service to and from vessels and pilot boat services for the Port of Detroit. The Westcott also sells nautical charts, postcards, books, and has been known to deliver the occasional mid-river pizza.

6. Largest Island Park Within a City

Courtesy of Google EarthAt 987 acres Belle Isle Park is the largest island park in the United States. First opened to the public in 1884, it is Detroit’s first major city park. Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the same designer credited with New York City’s Central Park. The park features a 9 hole golf course, museum, picnic shelters, tennis courts, basketball courts, baseball fields and a 150 acre state protected wooded area. It is also home to a wide variety of small animals, birds and European fallow deer. Belle Isle is rich in history which you can further read about here.

7. Only City From Which One Can Look South to Canada

Windsor Skyline from Detroit

Though not the most Northern major U.S. City2, Detroit is the only city in the 48 contiguous States where one can gaze south toward Canada. Specifically the Windsor, Ontario skyline as pictured above. For you trivia buffs, the northernmost city in the contiguous United States is Seattle, Washington.

8. Great Salt Mines Lie Beneath

Detroit Salt Mine

Detroit is built over an enormous salt bed. 1,200 feet below the city surface, salt mines spread over 1,400 acres and have more than 50 miles of roads.

Glaciologists believe the salt was created when a huge sea covering the region evaporated more than 400 million years ago, forming salt deposits which were gradually buried by glacial activity.

This salt bed spreads over 170,000 square miles under Michigan, Ontario, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia. Some estimates suggest that there is enough salt in the Metro Detroit underground to last 70 million years.

9. Birthplace of Techno

From left to right: Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Kevin SaundersonMost people associate Detroit music with the Motown sound. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year it has earned a well-deserved place in music history. Another sound, however, that is a true Detroit original is Techno.

Originating in the 1980s, largely as an underground movement, the increasingly popular new music proved electronics can be used to express both funk and soul. Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson, a Detroit trio who were high school friends, are considered the Godfathers of Techno.

In the late 80s and early 90s, Techno which had failed to gain mainstream success in the U.S., became a huge phenomenon in Europe – especially in Great Britian. This influenced artists like The Prodigy who achieved success, and number one singles on the pop charts.

The Detroit techno scene is well-documented in the movie High Tech Soul. Started in 2000, every Memorial Day Weekend, Detroit hosts an electronic music festival where DJs and partiers unite from all corners of the world to celebrate the beats.

10. Sports Capital of the Midwest

Detroit Sports

Behind the Art Deco architecture, the “Big 3”, and the oft-too public political scandals, Detroit is truly the sports capital of the Midwest. In major sports Detroit ranks third behind New York and Boston in championships, 22 in total 3. That’s quite the feat considering Detroit hasn’t had a competitive football team since the Eisenhower administration.

Sold-out games at Ford Field are a testament to the passion of the Detroit fan. The Pistons, Wings and Tigers are a better bet if you want to walk away happy. Detroit has also been a great host to a multitude of national sporting events. In 2005, Comerica Field hosted the MLB All-Star game, and 2006 brought us the World Series. Earlier that same year, Pittsburgh and Seattle battled it out in Super Bowl XL, and more recently Detroit hosted the 2009 NCAA Final Four. Stanley Cup Playoff appearances are almost common-place during spring, as well as unique international events such as the Red Bull Air Race.

Rivalries are welcomed so next time your favorite team is playing in Detroit stop by to watch them live, unless you’re a Penguin, just kidding.

Index:

1. Eureka!: An Illustrated History of Inventions From the Wheel to the Computer [back]
2. City as defined by 250,000 or more residents. [back]
3. Detroit Pistons (3), Detroit Lions (4 pre-Superbowl), Red Wings (11), Tigers (4) [back]

Editor’s Note:

This article was written by Roni Leibovitch and originally published July, 2009 for the blog elovethiscity / Detroit. Read, and shared by over 100,000 visitors, Roni chose to continue its digital life on a more active Website.

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  • http://twitter.com/dzuka16/status/192448695214686210/ Dan Zukas (@dzuka16)

    Let’s remember a few things about Detroit http://t.co/2JHdZUYH

  • The Ghost of Coleman Young

    I agree on the the sports town, although maybe #4, LA has a lot of championships too. I think now that the Lions are good we should have our own ESPN page

  • http://twitter.com/Nailah_Ayo/status/194593129423319040/ Nailah -Ayo (@Nailah_Ayo)

    10 Facts you should know about Detroit! http://t.co/ENEsSHOX

  • http://twitter.com/e3detroit/status/195203745536163840/ E3 Detroit (@e3detroit)

    Very Interesting. #Detroit http://t.co/5kkqAkgE

  • Jhenerichardson

    awsome

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  • http://twitter.com/FreshCornerCafe/status/199912885860831232/ Fresh Corner Cafe (@FreshCornerCafe)

    Here are some awesome/interesting facts out Detroit. Read and see how many you already knew..^_^ http://t.co/U5rC7y0H

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  • http://twitter.com/ptrbkr/status/200215400154267648/ Peter Baker (@ptrbkr)

    10 things you should know about Detroit. #3 is my favorite. http://t.co/NukPDbH4

  • http://twitter.com/BigDaylight/status/200351181418143744/ Big Daylight (@BigDaylight)

    We heart Detroit (and Michigan): 10 Detroit Facts You Should Know by @macroneus http://t.co/V4FBAPcy

  • monette

    i like all these facts

    • Fernando

      me 2 niguhh x)

  • Robert Kakos

    First ever to begin the concept of a publicly funded university – The Catholepistemiad.   Who can guess what the college is today? 

    • kingdiamond

      Wayne state?

    • Annie J

      Nope, The University of Michigan!!! GO BLUE!!!

  • http://twitter.com/mshomewardbound/status/211858778625294336/ MsHomewardBound (@mshomewardbound)

    10 Detroit Facts You Should Know by @macroneus http://t.co/Apv1t3D9

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    Love this! 10 Detroit Facts You Should Know by @macroneus http://t.co/qbG3Avim

  • Mickey Blue

    Detroit is where I am Raised!! I was born in Texas (:

  • http://twitter.com/Motowncool/status/230289497420615680/ Craig Seay (@Motowncool)

    #DetroitLove did you know?
    http://t.co/uppm1zp4

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  • http://twitter.com/MSU_REI/status/230342174523400192/ @MSU_REI

    Some great Michigan #innovation in here! RT @DetroitChamber 10 fun and distinguishing facts about the city of #Detroit. http://t.co/35eeUZhm

  • http://twitter.com/audiobroad/status/230359686669541376/ Traci Cothran (@audiobroad)

    Respect Detroit: We supplied/smuggled 75% of all liquor during Prohibition. RT @DetroitChamber: 10 fun facts @ Detroit. http://t.co/zIdTQvim

  • http://twitter.com/allisonbrett/status/230384064484474880/ @allisonbrett

    “@DetroitChamber: 10 fun and distinguishing facts about the city of #Detroit. http://t.co/gZOgXAJS” no wonder I love this city

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    “@JennyLaFemme: 10 Detroit Facts You Should Know by @macroneus http://t.co/EZ1YJKgA”
    Just wrote those down a few days ago, for a project! ;)

  • http://twitter.com/kristanjcaryl/status/246922053322682369/ @kristanjcaryl

    think you know all about the d? http://t.co/npCt6bY5

  • http://twitter.com/SwScholarship/status/248944662306496512/ @SwScholarship

    Booze & prohibition? Ginger ale float? paved roads? Stamps on the water? Canada over there salt mines here. http://t.co/HysLaCma #goruck

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  • Sharminh110

    Detroit my town lmfao! Born and Raised Michigan

    • Jack Manning

      Trust me, don’t put that on your Facebook page.

  • Ugghygfbjlb

    yes baby

  • ziya

    EMINEM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Fernando

      Fuk yea niguhh

      • Jack Manning

        A Detroiter!

      • Jack Manning

        Ah! racial harmony.

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  • http://twitter.com/UpharmDetroit/status/266936698255065088/ @UpharmDetroit

    Detroit Fun Fact: It was the first city to pave a concrete road in 1909! http://t.co/B0ie2enF http://t.co/Z2gctu3l

  • Kzhr

    Great facts!
    Kinda looking for the ethnic “pockets” that formed – Hamtramck for Polish, etc. Also, JL Hudson and streetcars!

    • Jack Manning

      Hello! Hamtramck is not Detroit.

  • Nero Savage

    Also a seriously tough town. And Home to Axel Foley!

    • benkozicki

      don’t forget Robocop!

  • http://twitter.com/GIArmySurplus/status/274656706359857153/ @GIArmySurplus

    10 Detroit Facts You Should Know by @macroneus http://t.co/P7c9ulj5

  • Fernando

    Dope ass factzz

    • jblover69@yahoo.com

      please dont swear

  • muskan

    very good

  • Guest

    I love these fact from Glo in Los Angeles, Ca. We’re always a Detroiter

    • Jack Manning

      Things that bad there to eh! Like you never left Detroit.

  • http://twitter.com/ProducerJSnow/status/291365566634147842/ @ProducerJSnow

    10 Detroit Facts You Should Know by @macroneus http://t.co/aq05Pubt

  • http://www.facebook.com/jose.durango.31337 Jose Duran

    we are the first to have all of technology and the last to get reconized for every good thing we do. but we are the fisrt on the map for the bad

    • Jack Manning

      That is the yardstick to what Detroit has become.

  • http://twitter.com/EvansDist/status/294505325871124480/ @EvansDist

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  • joanne nixon

    though i have lived in az for more than 35 years, the “D” will always be home to me….thank you for publishing this newsletter….

    • Jack Manning

      Things that bad in Arizona?

  • Anthony Brogdon

    I am producing “The Great Detroit” documentary which examines Detroit from a positive perspective and it will cite many of these first noted. strongdetroit.net

    • Jack Manning

      That will be one of the shortest documentaries in history.

  • BJlover@yahoo.com

    Everyone please stop swearing!!!!

    • jblover69@yahoo.com

      i love your email name

      • BJlover@yahoo.com

        Gee thanks slut!;)

        • jblover69@yahoo.com

          jb is my slave

          • BJlover@yahoo.com

            BJs are my life

          • jblover69@yahoo.com

            cut for bjs

          • BJlover@yahoo.com

            Girl “Do you ever put it in your mouth?”
            White Chick “NEVER!!!!”

          • zagnut

            You are one trash “A” hole..

          • Jack Manning

            Sounds like a family affair. Are you two related?

          • Ronald Boggess

            so ur a female

        • Jack Manning

          You sound familiar. Where is Detroit have you crawled out from?

  • jblover69@yahoo.com

    please sotp swearing people plssss stop

    • Guest

      I love 69 bitch! get at me hoe.

    • John Avignone

      Please shut he fuck up and fucking stop trying to fucking tell other fucking people what the fuck they are allowed fucking say or fucking not, you fucking censoring fucknut. Is this fucking clear enough for your or shall we fucking tattoo it backwards on your fucking ass for easy fucking future reference?

      • Robb Dennis

        John Avignone must be Samuel Jackson’s sn… LOL

      • geokaz

        Vulgarity is a sign of a lazy mind.

        • John Avignone

          As is an inability to recognize sarcasm, even after 3 months.

  • BJlover@yahoo.com

    Over the recent decades Detroit has taken on many nicknames including Motown, The Motor City, Hockeytown, Rock City or just simply “The D”.
    I like the last name “The D”! ha its my life

    • detroit_is_garbage

      my favorite nickname is shithole

  • big nick

    yo these are great facts best thankssssssssssssss.

  • Nancy Patterson

    You’d never know #8 is true with the way the roads have been maintained this Winter.

    • Barby

      When temperatures are below zero, there’s only so much that can be done
      to treat the roads. That’s because salt loses its effectiveness at 18
      degrees.subzero temperatures, combined with salt, can actually cause the road to refreeze and turn into an ice rink.

      • Sarah

        Exactly. They can only use sand to help with traction once it gets below that point.

      • Nancy Patterson

        Would you say now they’ve maintained the roads adequately here? If they don’t have money for salt and can’t fill the chuck holes with asphalt, they could AT LEAST fill them in with dirt. Yesterday was our first ‘warm’ day. It was slushing. They were scraping the roads that were covered in WATER. Can you imagine what THIS did to the chuck holes when they plowed into them? Totally ridiculous.

  • Miles West

    I know Detroiters like to think techno was born in Detroit but its just not true and I’m so tired of hearing that. Detroit played a part in the evolution (twice) but that about all you can say. If you don’t believe me ask the guys pictured above. They’ll explain it to you. Just something people came up with that stuck. Plus Richie Hawtin’s plus 8 studios really made a big impact. There was so much going on in Chicago and in New York and Europe. Whatever. I’m orig from Baltimore and just see things differently. Here’s some tracks to listen to….Torch Song, prepare to energize” circa 1982)…Visage, frequency 7, Ultravox Mr. X, Newcleus – Push the Button, any Kraftwerk 80′s track…I just don’t get how Detroit got that title. If anything Kraftwerk invented it and thats that. end of story. Ha!!!! Did you know they used to play house music at City Club…for a mostly white audience?

    • Mirage Miraj D’Ave

      They still do to this day

    • JollyRod

      When we say “techno” we don’t mean “electronic music.”

      Techno is a small part of the whole that is electronic music. There are subtle nuances that make it distinct from house music (which comes from Chicago) or the experimental music that Kraftwerk was doing (which is really hit-or-miss in “sounding like techno”). Techno was, essentially, funk music played on non-traditional instruments (synthesizers) in the early days. Chicago house was essentially (in it’s early form) samples pulled from different disco records mixed together, occasionally with an inexpensive bassline sequencer used as accompaniment. You can tell the difference, as house usually has a bass drum on each 1 count in 4/4 time, techno has a more syncopated rhythm with dark or cryptic vocal tracks.

      TL;DR – The proper blanket term is “Electronic Music” Techno is a distinct genre.

    • Jack Manning

      Wake me when this is over.

    • jay quizzle

      yea, lets ask Ritchie hawtin! he will tell you DETROIT!

      • jay quizzle

        don’t flap your gums! if you don’t know shizzzz

  • Klaus Fischer

    cool stuff

  • Sarah

    Another nickname I like is “the 313″.

    • Christy Dennison-First

      the three one third

  • Michael J Pacteles

    love it

  • Zius Patagus

    And Detroit built the first expressway (the Davidson). The Detroit Police were also the first department to put two way radios in their patrol cars.

    • Eleanor Borgers Bittner

      The expressway was the Davison, & it still exists today.

  • jesse.bateau@wowway.com

    Interesting information. I found that many of the homes on the east side of Detroit and Grosse Pointe were at one time involved in the illegal alcohol business during Prohibition, with basement tunnels between houses and all kinds of things like that. I found out about some of this when I bought a home on the east side in Detroit, and found that it had an entire room sealed underneath a room on the far side in what had once been a garage, and was next to the new garage, and now covered with newer flooring. A neighbor, who happened to be an architect, brought over the original architectural drawings for our home, and this room was not on it. apparently, they had a garage door on both the front and the back, and this room underneath was used for storage. Trucks would pull inside, and they would close the door, empty the contents into this room, and go out the back door into the alley and make their exit. if police ever investigated, they never found this room, where the alcohol was kept hidden until it was needed. It was driven over from Canada, either brought over by boats, over driven right over the ice, as the article suggested. Many of the neighbors were old guys who were around back then and knew all about it. I tried to access the information about Belle Isle, but the link did not work. I was interested, because I knew a woman, I worked with her, and her family had originally owned Belle Isle long ago, before selling it to the city. So I was interested in reading more about it, but your link is contaminated. If you could supply a better link, i would appreciate it. Thanks.

  • Kathie

    News…just learned that with all the financial woes of the D, the State has taken over and will soon start charging the $15 park fee to cross the bridge. If so I would hope that there would be maintenance.

    • Pauline Piggott

      Which bridge aer you talking about? The Ambassador? I thought that it was privately owned.

    • D_Town_Hero

      Not sure what you’re talking about. The Ambassador Bridge is privately owned by Matty Maroun. Are you confusing the issue with access to Belle Isle, which is now state-run and will require a yearly $11 park pass for entry?

  • RetChief

    I have won many bar bets on the looking south in Canada!!

  • Justice

    Ahhh memories. I used to fish down by the Ambassador Bridge in the 60s and saw the J.W. Westcott (this one looks newer) hundreds of times taking mail out to the ships and heading back.

  • Paul A.

    Based on fact #7, fact #5 should say “…J. W. Westcott II docks just [west] of The Ambassador Bridge along the [northern] shore of the Detroit River.”

  • Pat Ryback

    I fell a bit sad – you did not mention some of the great high schools -I lived in Detroit during WW11 and attended Cass Technical High School, graduating in 1944. Some of my happiest memories of being young – even though we did have concerns about the war. I worked after school in the purse/bag department at a store called Klines on Woodward Avenue – what a great time. Now at 87 years old, I am living near a son in Seattle – but when Detroit is mentioned , oh how great I feel. I lived on Seminol (sp) Avenue for a time before moving to Warwick Avenue on the East side. Great memories – great city – I wish it would come back to what it was – vibrant, safe, busy – good memories!

  • Cedric Thomas

    Pretty interesting, good facts to know ,for those thst did,nt. Keep um coming.

  • AnnetteAben

    YAY us!

  • Ronald Boggess

    i live in detroit, its a shithole

  • Jennifer Gauthier

    Love this.

  • http://www.s-campbell.com/ Scott Campbell

    The salt mines could be a great asset the way other underground mines elsewhere have been developed. If only it received a little help…

  • Leonta Shanti Rue

    I love Detroit but I dont like all the rape here.