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Detroit Historical Museum October 8, 2018

Posted by flashbuzzer in Arts, History.
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I recently visited the Detroit Historical Museum in Detroit. The museum showcases the history of Detroit.

Here are seven nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. Antoine Laumet de La Mothe Cadillac founded the city of Detroit in 1701 (“detroit” is actually the French word for “strait”). Cadillac founded Fort Ponchartrain at the present-day location of Detroit; its namesake was the French Marine Minister. Fort Pontchartrain was replaced by Fort Lernoult after the Seven Years’ War. American forces took control of Fort Lernoult in 1796 and renamed it Fort Detroit.

2. The city of Detroit was devastated by a fire in 1805. Augustus Woodward played a critical role in the rebuilding efforts, creating a street plan modeled after the diagonal streets in Washington, D.C. The development of Detroit was spurred by several factors, including:

  • the construction of the Erie Canal, which reduced the travel time between Detroit and the East Coast
  • Lewis Cass, who extolled the virtues of Michigan to prospective pioneers; he served as the governor of Michigan Territory from 1813 to 1831
  • the construction of the Soo Locks, which connected Lakes Superior and Huron; the Lower and Upper Peninsulas furnished the timber, iron, and copper that was used to build railroads, ships and stoves.

3. African-American inventors with Detroit ties included:

  • Elijah McCoy, who invented an automatic lubricator, enabling the oiling of moving trains; his sundry innovations inspired the phrase, “real McCoy”
  • William Davis, who invented the refrigerator car; George Hammond bought the associated patent from him and used a refrigerator car to ship a load of beef to Boston.

4. August Fruehauf hitched a modified wagon to his neighbor’s Model T; that wagon served as the first “semi-trailer,” as it carried his neighbor’s pleasure boat. Some of Fruehauf’s other innovations included:

  • using hydraulics to develop dump trailers
  • developing the first refrigerated trailer, which featured a trap door above its ice and salt
  • the first container trailer that could carry liquids.

5. The discography for Motown includes several protest songs, such as:

6. Abolitionism in the United States extended to Michigan. For example, on the Underground Railroad, “midnight” and “Canaan land” were cryptonyms for Detroit and Canada, respectively. One of the conductors on the Underground Railroad, William Lambert, founded the “Colored Vigilant Committee” which was Detroit’s first civil rights organization. Finney’s Barn was one of the Detroit-area stops on the Underground Railroad; ironically, it was near a hotel that was frequented by slave catchers. In 1855, a personal liberty law was enacted in Michigan in response to the Fugitive Slave Act; it gave slaves the right to an attorney.

7. The Algiers Motel incident was sparked by police reports of sniper fire from the vicinity of the motel. One unarmed black youth was slain while lying in bed, while a second black youth was slain while obeying an order to assemble. A third black youth was slain while several policemen intimidated a group of seven blacks and two whites. Two all-white juries would later acquit one officer of murder and two other officers of conspiracy, respectively; both trials occurred outside Detroit.

The museum had a neat exhibit featuring toy trains at its basement level; I marveled at the skill that was required to assemble it. I also enjoyed an exhibit that highlighted machinery from an actual Cadillac plant, where a robotic arm repeatedly lowered a car body onto a chassis. In addition, I was enlightened by the exhibit on the fiftieth anniversary of the Detroit riots.

I don’t have any quibbles with the museum at this time.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would recommend it to tourists in Detroit.