Michigan is an excellent place to vacation, live, and play. But it also is a land of first’s. So we found these ten amazing little tidbits of obscure trivia on what Michigan is known for in the automotive, shipping, and transportation area. But, of course, we are always hunting for other Michigan trivia, so I expect this list to grow well beyond these ten.
#10 Michigan is Known as the Car Capital of the World.
What makes Michigan the “heartland of the United States auto industry”? For starters, it is the heart of automobile manufacturing in the United States. 96 of the top 100 automotive suppliers to North America have their headquarters in Michigan. In addition, General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis (Formerly Chrysler) have acting headquarters operations in the Motor City Area.
#9 The First Autos Unions Were Created in Michigan
The United Auto Workers union was founded in Detroit, Michigan, in 1935. General Motors was the first major automaker to unionize, following a three-month sit-down strike at several of the company’s operations in Flint, Michigan.
#8 The First Air Conditioned Car Was Made in Michigan
The Packard Motor Car Company in Detroit offered the first air-conditioned car in 1939. The 1940 Packard was the first car to offer factory-installed air-conditioning. Unfortunately, only 1,500 cars were made. The A/C unit sat in the trunk and took alot of room. It wasn’t until 1953 when Chrysler’s Airtemp was an available option for the average vehicle production.
#7 A Michigan Cop Made the World First Modern Traffic Light
William L. Potts, born in Bad Axe, Michigan, is credited with inventing the modern traffic signal. By 1920, obsolete green and red lights were used, but they did not give drivers enough time to stop when moving at greater speeds.
Potts was a Detroit police officer who conceived and built the green, yellow, and red light systems. His first traffic signal was installed at the intersection of Woodward and Michigan Avenues in Detroit.
#6 Michigan Made the First Tunnels For Travel Between Two Nations
The only means to travel vast distances in the late 1800s was by rail. The St. Clair Tunnel between Port Huron, Michigan, and Sarnia, Ontario, was the first international tunnel built-in 1891, followed by the Michigan Central Railway Tunnel between Detroit and Windsor in 1910.
The mile-long Detroit-Windsor tunnel under the Detroit River was the first vehicle traffic tunnel built between two countries. Construction began in 1928, and it was completed in 1930. The Detroit-Windsor Tunnel is the United States and Canada’s second busiest border crossing. The Ambassador Bridge in Detroit is the busiest crossing.
Source: Detroit-Windsor Tunnel
#5 Michigan Was First to Start Regular Airline Services
Grand Rapids Gerald R Ford International Airport claims the title to the first regularly scheduled airline service in the United States. Air service began on July 31, 1926, between Grand Rapids and Detroit, Michigan. Stout Air Services operated from Ford Airport in Dearborn under the name Detroit-Grand Rapids Airline. A round trip ticket cost $35. That ticket would be about $541 today!
#4 Michigan Has One Of the Last Chain Powered Ferry Services
The only extant chain-driven ferry in the country is a passenger-only ferry in the Michigan resort town of Saugatuck, which is hand-propelled. The Saugatuck Chain Ferry has been in operation since 1838. Three pulleys maintain it straight while it is dragged over the Kalamazoo River. It is thought to be one of just three on the globe.
This is undoubtedly a one-of-a-kind mode of transportation. When the ferry is ready to cross the Kalamazoo River, the operator sounds a handheld air horn to alert all boat traffic to come to a complete stop. Then, the operator spins a crank on the inside of the ferry, causing the ship to move down the chain. The ferry travels from Saugatuck’s downtown area to the well-known and famous Oval Beach. It’s only about 250 feet long, but it saves you a long drive to your favorite beach.
Source: Saugatuck Chain Ferry
#3 Michigan Has the Worlds Only Post Office That is Never on Dry Land
A 45-foot tugboat named the J.W. Westcott II acts as the world only floating post office. Located near Detroit, this postal operation has operated for over 140 years delivering mail, fast food, and even live animals to the hundreds of gigantic ships and freighters that pass through the Straits of Detroit.
Any mail intended to members of ship’s crews on vessels transiting the Detroit River can be carried by J. W. Westcott II by addressing it to “Vessel Name, Marine Post Office, Detroit, Michigan, 48222.”
#2 The First Police Radio System in the World Was Created in Michigan
A lonely plaque can be viewed in the Harbormaster Station on Belle Island of Detroit, Michigan. It reads, “t this site on April 7, 1928, and the Detroit Police Department commenced regular one-way radio communication with its patrol cars. Developed by personnel of the Detroit Police Department’s radio bureau, the system was the product of seven years of experimentation under the direction of police commissioner William P. Rutledge. Their work proved the practicality of land-mobile radio for police work and led to its adoption throughout the country.”
Between 1921 and 1927, three Detroit cops familiar with radio operations worked to improve the system. Kenneth R. Cox, Walter Vogler, and Bernard Fitzgerald tested radio equipment installed in the back seat of a Model T Ford police patrol car.
#1 For Years, Michigan Ranked First In the Nation With State Boat Registrations
Being surrounded by four of the five Great Lakes, it’s a wonder Michigan ranked first in boat registrations for many years. Then in 2002, California took the top spot by 51,000 boats. Now in 2021, Michigan has retained its #2 ranking after beating past Minnesota’s boat registrations last year.
This ranking is important because it means funding from Uncle Sam. The Sport Fish Restoration Program (SFR) provides grant funds to the states for fishery projects, the development of boating access, and aquatic education. Funds are distributed based on boat registrations.