The Way To The Big Sea Water

A century ago the Soo canal was an insignificant ditch in a remote northern wilderness. Today it serves as the busiest industrial highway on earth.

The country club at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, looks across the great bend of the St. Mary’s River to Sugar Island, where a few Chippewas still live in the maple forest; beyond are the great spruce woods of Canada and the long dark skyline of the Laurentians. Inside the club house you can see a century-old canoe, a canot du nord built for the wilderness, sturdy and graceful, strong enough to carry tons of peltry yet light enough to portage.Read more »

Art And The City

How Grand Rapids Regained Its Grandeur

I’ve long held the notion that my lion-pawed oak dining table was a prime example of Grand Rapids furniture. Michigan’s second city is the birthplace of mass-produced furniture in America, but when I visited last summer, I didn’t see anything that resembled it. And I discovered a lot more to think about than tables and chairs. Except for Steelcase, the office furnishings conglomerate founded here in 1912, most of the business had decades ago moved to the American South, with its cheaper labor costs.

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Designer of the American Dream

Bill Mitchell’s imaginings brought you the cars of Detroit’s ultimate classic era

THEY SIT LIKE RUINED VILLAS IN THE distant reaches of mall parking lots, in inner-city neighborhoods and backcountry towns, dressed no longer in bright colors but in gray patches and orange primer, the last Chevelles and Biscaynes, GTOs and Sting Rays, the dying echoes of the stylistic opera of Bill Mitchell.Read more »

The Calumet Tragedy

When copper-country miners went on strike, the owners brought thugs from the slums of New York to northern Michigan. The struggle led to an event that killed a city.

On the surface, there was hardly a more unlikely spot for turn-of-the-century prosperity than the isolated community of Calumet. Located in the wilds of Michigan’s rugged Upper Peninsula, on a windswept finger of hardscrabble land that juts out into the cold waters of Lake Superior, it is a place that annually receives more than fifteen feet of snow, where winter begins at the end of September and seldom lets up until April. Read more »

“shut The Goddam Plant!”

The great sit-down strike that transformed American industry

At General Motors’ Flint, Michigan, Fisher Body Number One, the largest auto-body factory in the world, it was early evening of a chill winter day. Suddenly a bright red light began flashing in the window of the United Automobile Workers union hall across the street from the plant’s main gate. It was the signal for an emergency union meeting. Read more »

Tribute To A Feathered Tempest

The great swarm of birds on the preceding two pages (a detail of which appears below) was painted by Michigan artist Lewis Luman Cross in 1900. Even at that date, it had to be painted from memory, for by the turn of the century the million-membered flocks of passenger pigeons that once darkened the Midwestern skies had been driven to the edge of extinction by hunters. Fifteen years later they were extinct, the last pigeon dying in a Cincinnati zoo in 1914.Read more »

Greenfield Village

What happened when the richest man in America decided to collect one of everything

The whole curious enterprise puzzled Americans in the 1920’s. Here was mighty Henry Ford, the man who said history was “more or less bunk,” collecting on a titanic scale every jot and tittle of the American past that he and his emissaries could lay hands on—four-poster beds, banjo clocks, cigar-store Indians, old boots, gas lamps, rusty old threshers, and wooden flails.Read more »

The Beautiful Sound


I was talking with my friend Leonard about the matter of keeping a house warm in the depths of a northern Michigan winter, and he asked if I knew what the most beautiful sound in the world was. I replied, dutifully, that I did not, and Leonard got a faraway look in his eyes and told me. Read more »

Michigan Timber

An excerpt from a new bicentennial history of his native state

The book from which the following excerpt is drawn is to be published later this month by W. W. Norton O” Company; it is one of a series of bicentennial state histories being prepared under the aegis of the American Association for State and Local History.

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The Battle Of Lake Erie

"With half the western world at stake, See Perry on the middle lake.” —Nineteenth-century ballad

In the late summer of 1812 a Great Lakes merchant captain named Daniel Dobbins arrived in Washington. He had had a dreadful time getting there, and his journey could not have been made more pleasant by the fact that he was bringing some very bad news with him. Read more »