Fun Facts & Trivia About Detroit, MI
Detroit is famous for many iconic images, from Ford Motor Company to Eminem. However, there's more to this city than its measurements in miles and being home to international motor vehicle companies. Residents can easily walk from their homes straight into historic areas. Some long-time residents don't know all of the bits of history covered in this unique guide about the lesser-known side of the Motor City. Read on to discover some fun facts about Detroit, Michigan.
Detroit Was the Final Stop in the Underground Railroad
The Underground Railroad played a significant part in helping to free slaves from the south between 1800 to 1865. This secret network of aid allowed slaves to receive financial, spiritual, and material aid from various individuals. Americans helped facilitate the Underground Railroad from the southernmost states all the way to Detroit.
Known as conductors, the individuals who helped slaves move along the secret network would guide how to reach the next "stop" along the path. These stops were often sheds, barns, attics, cellars, and churches that hid escaping slaves. Those moving along the Underground Railroad could only run from stop to stop during the dead of night.
Detroit was honored with the codename Midnight. The city was the final stop before slaves could reach freedom over the border in Canada, just over the Detroit River. Upon arriving in Detroit, escaped slaves would take one of seven or more paths to freedom.
The Detroit River Is Both a River & a Strait
While many have heard about the Detroit River, few know that it's both a river and a strait. The debate of whether to call the Detroit River a river or a strait is mostly a moot point, but it's interesting to explore. There are no legal implications that can come from calling a river a strait or vice versa.
Dating back to the early 1700s, the arriving French explorers called the waterway "Détroit Erié '" or "Strait of Erie." It was called a strait because it connects two bodies of water: Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie, two of the best lakes near Detroit. However, by the early 1740s, the explorers began labeling it on maps as "Rivière du Détroit" or "River of the Straits."
When the English took control of the region, they began calling the waterway the Detroit River. It's possible the name change came from the local perceptions of the narrow waterway, especially in comparison to nearby straits that are miles wide.
As such, the name Detroit River honors the area's French-British heritage. However, the waterway can be classified as both a river and a strait—it's a flowing passage of water that connects two bodies of water. There's nothing wrong with referring to it as one or the other, but most call it the Detroit River and refer to it as a river.
Detroit Has Tried to Host the Olympics Nine Times
Detroit has wanted the Olympics in its city since 1940. In fact, Detroit made bids to host every single one of the nine Summer Games between 1940 and 1972. During those years, the Olympics was smaller and more manageable. Detroit could have easily hosted the games. However, the city was continuously denied for various reasons, ranging from politics to infighting to image. Despite longtime proponent Fred Matthaei's best efforts, none of the bids were successful.
However, Detroit hasn't lost hope. Despite having to turn down bidding for the 2024 Olympics in 2013, some of Detroit's residents believe the International Olympic Committee could benefit from re-examining its strategy for choosing host locations and favoring "grassroots celebration."
Detroit Has its Own Style of Pizza
Everyone has heard of the New York slice and Chicago deep-dish pizza. However, Detroit also has its own style of pizza. Many have actually enjoyed Detroit-style pizza without realizing it, as they may have heard it referred to as Sicilian-style instead. The reason? Some felt that Detroit did not have a positive image when the pizza was born in the 1980s, so they referred to it as Sicilian-style instead, for the dough's similarity to Sicilian sfincione.
Detroit-style pizza is a rectangular pizza that's thick and crispy. Originally baked in drip pans initially intended for the automotive industry, the Wisconsin brick cheese that goes to the pizza's very edge melts down and caramelizes. More often, the order of ingredients is cheese and then toppings.
In honor of the automotive industry, the toppings are sometimes placed in racing stripes of two or three rows. The sauce is typically added after baking is complete to avoid a soggy crust and is referred to as a "red top."
The Coney Dog Was Born in Detroit
While many think the coney dog was born in New York, the coney dog was actually born in Detroit. The coney dog is not just a chili dog; it's a cheap Detroit delicacy with a roaring battle between the original creators of the meal. According to the locals, if the coney dog doesn't taste cheap, it's not a real coney dog.
A coney dog is an all-beef hotdog that's thrown onto a steamed bun and topped with a thin, soupy chili sauce, raw onion, and mustard. The dog is not made with love. It's thrown together as quickly as possible. The chili sauce is not meant to be thick. It's thinner and backed with greasy ground beef. Yet, coney dogs satisfy a craving like no other.
Two Coney Islands are at war with who has the best coney dog. American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island are restaurants owned by two brothers who split after a disagreement. After the brothers had their falling out, one of the brothers opened a restaurant next door to the original. Lines form along the block to grab a delicious, cheap, tasty coney dog from either restaurant—though many residents swear allegiance to one and refuse to step foot in the other.
Detroit Was Home to One of the First Electric Car Manufacturers
While almost everyone knows about Tesla, not many know that Detroit was home to the world's first electric car manufacturer. The Anderson Electric Car Company produced electric vehicles (called the Detroit Electric) from 1907 until 1939. During that time, they built over 13,000 vehicles. Due to World War II, all efforts moved from producing electric vehicles to supporting the war effort. Upon the conclusion of the war, the company did not have the resources to continue production.
The original Detroit Electric car was powered by a rechargeable lead-acid battery. Between 1911 and 1916, an optional $600 upgrade to an Edison nickel-iron battery was available. However, most purchasers decided to stick with the rechargeable lead-acid battery.
At the time, non-electric vehicles required the engine to be hand-cranked to start. Sometimes, the vehicle would start right away. Other times, several cranks were required to get the vehicle started. The Detroit Electric was the world's first car that was easy to start every time. By the early 1910s, the Anderson Electric Car Company sold up to 2,000 electric vehicles a year.
The Detroit Electric could only go a top speed of 20 miles per hour, but that was preferred for driving in Detroit. The downtown area was not designed to handle high-speed vehicles. The cars were advertised to go up to 80 miles per charge, but tests revealed a single charge could go over 200 miles in the right weather conditions.
Detroit Has Its Own Currency
First issued in 2009, Detroit's own currency is called the Detroit Community Scrip (or Detroit Cheers). Only 25 businesses officially signed up to accept the new currency. Most of the original businesses still accept the Scrip to this day. However, a few other businesses informally accept Detroit's currency.
The Detroit Community Scrip is backed by the United States dollar and is fully exchangeable for the same value. Even businesses can become issuers of the Detroit Cheers. All businesses need to do is put up the United States dollar. For example, if they put up $2,500 in United States dollars, they can issue up to $2,500 worth of Cheers.
The currency was released to restore local confidence after the 2008 housing crash. Because the local economy was not at its peak, the city followed the model of releasing a local scrip as some places did during the Great Depression. Currently, only $4,500 is in circulation. However, it's a fun, unique aspect that Detroit locals and tourists alike can enjoy.
Detroit Is Home to America's Only Floating Post Office
The zip code 48222 is directly linked to the J. W. Westcott II, also known as America's only floating post office. The boat is 45 feet long and has a 13-foot beam. Powered by a 305 horsepower diesel engine, it can sail at 15 knots. The boat is a floating post office responsible for delivering mail to other water vessels on the Detroit River. Crew and vessels can receive mail by having the sending party address letters and packages to "Vessel Name, Marine Post Office, Detroit, Michigan, 48222." This unique post office ensures that crews on longer voyages can still receive important information from employers and loved ones.
The J. W. Westcott II sank in 2001 when it was caught in the wake of Norwegian oil tanker MT Sidsel Knutsen. After much debate, the J. W. Westcott II was deemed historically important and modernly useful. The boat was salvaged, refurbished, and restored.
With all of the city's unique features, it's easy to see why so many fall in love with Detroit. The city is more than just an automotive hub—Detroit's home to a rich history and its own currency. Pizza and coney dogs are an active part of the Detroit culture. The city even helped kick start the era of electric vehicles!
With all that Detroit has offered in the past, it should be easy to see the potential benefits the city will provide residents and the world in the future. Those who want to live in a truly unique, multi-faceted city will love calling Detroit home.