If you’re a native Detroiter, there’s no doubt that you know all there is to know about the city, right? Wrong! No matter how long you’ve lived in the Motor City, it would be impossible to retain each and every tidbit of information about your hometown. Here are 13 facts about Detroit that might surprise you.
1. There’s a salt mine below the city’s streets.
The Detroit Salt Company operates a major mine from over a thousand feet below the surface of Detroit’s streets. The majority of the salt produced today is used as road salt, but the company has a long history dating all the way back to the early 1900s. While the mine is no longer open to the public, its mere existence might be surprising to some Detroiters!
2. Detroit played a major role in bootlegging during Prohibition.
At the height of Prohibition in the United States, Detroit came to serve as a popular hub for importing bootlegged liquor into the country. Why, you ask? Detroit’s position near the Canadian border made the Detroit River a perfect place to pick up illegal shipments.
3. The city served as a last stop on the Underground Railroad.
Detroit might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think about the Underground Railroad, but our city played an important role by hosting several sites for slaves seeking freedom and a new life. Detroit’s codename at the time was "Midnight," and many slaves sought to reach Ontario — primarily because Canada had abolished slavery in 1833.
4. Detroit was home to one of the country’s first state fairs.
The Motor City hosted the first annual Michigan State Fair in 1849, second only to the state of New York. This awesome event helped set a fun precedent for other cities throughout the country. Can you imagine the excitement of attending a fair for the very first time?
5. The Detroit River isn’t technically a river.
While it can be difficult to tell the difference, the Detroit River is actually a strait and not a river. A strait is defined as a waterway that connects two larger bodies of water, and the Detroit River does just that: creating a passageway between Lake Huron and Lake Erie. Who knew?
6. The Motor City was home to the world’s first four-way traffic light.
Our city has certainly done its fair share for the history of automobiles, and we’ve even contributed to the development of safer traffic conditions. Detroit installed the world’s very first four-way traffic light in 1920 after its invention by local police officer William Potts. Talk about an important innovation!
7. Detroit tops the list for potato chip consumption in the United States.
But, really, who can blame us? We’re home to Better Made Potato Chips, and it’s pretty tough to stop munching once you start! Better Made’s website states that the average Detroiter consumes seven pounds of chips each year. Wow.
8. K-Mart has its roots in Detroit.
If you’ve ever shopped at K-Mart throughout the years, you can thank Detroit! This one-thriving superstore originated with founder S.S. Kresge, who opened one of two five and dime stores in the Motor City in 1897. Kresge’s chain grew, eventually developing into — you guessed it — K-Mart!
9. Detroit has an inspiring official motto.
The official motto of our beloved city is "Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus," which translates to "We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes." This beautiful quote, attributed to French priest Father Gabriel Richard, seems tailor-made for Detroit. Despite our struggles, our city is determined to continue rebuilding and reinvigorating.
10. Detroiters really, really like to go bowling.
When you think Detroit sports, you probably conjure images of Tigers games and the struggles of being a Lions fan. But did you know that Detroit holds the record for most registered bowlers in the country? We aren’t sure how to explain this one — but it’s true, and we bet you didn’t learn about it in school.
11. The Motor City is home to a floating post office.
Yep, you read that right. Detroit is home to a floating post office, the J.W. Westcott II, which delivers mail to barges and boats stationed near the city shoreline. The Westcott in the only boat in the United States with its very own zip code: 48222!
12. The city was the first place in the world to assign private phone numbers.
Younger generations might not know that telephones used to operate exclusively on party lines, meaning that it was pretty difficult to have a private conversation. Thankfully, Detroit put an end to this dilemma in 1879, when it became the first-ever city to provide private numbers for individual phones.
13. Detroit was home to the first paved roadway.
They don’t call us "the Motor City" for nothing. In 1909, the Wayne County Road Commission completed construction on America’s first concrete highway in downtown Detroit. While this initial section only stretched on for one mile, it set the precedent for modern transportation routes as we know them.
Did you learn anything new about the Motor City from this list? Share your thoughts in the comments below — and be sure to let us know if there are any fascinating facts we forgot to include!