Michigan is a northern American state located in the Great Lakes Region of the United States. It is bordered to the south by the states of Indiana and Ohio, and by Wisconsin to the west. The state borders 4 of the 5 Great Lakes (Michigan, Superior, Huron, Erie) and for this reason is known as the Great Lake State. Michigan is the only state to lie entirely on a peninsula, or (as it happens) two: the sparsely-populated Upper Peninsula (UP) in the north and the more densely-populated Lower Peninsula (LP) in the south. The LP famously looks like a mitten; when you ask Michiganders where they're from, very often they'll point to a spot on the palm of their right hand (the fingers are populated, but not as heavily), using the hand as a rough map of the state.
An oft-forgotten fact about Michigan is that it is huge—the largest state east of the Mississippi by total area, and the second-largest east of the Mississippi by land area (Georgia is a little bigger). Its land area is approximately the same as that of England and Wales combined, and its total area is slightly greater than the island of Great Britain (in other words, Michigan has an entire Scotland's worth of lake). The shape of the state—two peninsulas roughly perpendicular to each other—makes getting from the UP border with Wisconsin to Detroit quite a long trip. note The drive from Monroe (the south-easternmost major town in the LP) to Atlanta, Georgia is actually shorter than the drive from Monroe to Ironwood(the north-westernmost major town in the UP)
The state can be broadly divided into regions, as follows:
Southeast Michigan: Centered on Detroit—the state's largest city—and home to just under half of Michigan's 9.8 million people. Often called Metro Detroit, but this isn't strictly true; Ann Arbor is unquestionably in Southeast Michigan, but whether it's part of Metro Detroit is something of a hot topic. Either way, the Southeast is the home of the American automotive industry (GM's headquarters are in the iconic Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit, Ford's are in Dearborn—which is entirely surrounded by Detroit—and Chrysler's are in the northern suburb of Auburn Hills). As a result, the region is highly dependent on the industry: when the Big Three are doing well, the area (although not Detroit itself) does well, too. When it isn't, the area generally suffers.
Southeast Michigan also has the dubious honor of being the most racially-segregated metropolitan area in the United States. After the race riots of the late 1960s, wealthier white Detroiters fled to the suburbs, leaving Detroit predominantly poor and black. This has major effects on the region's dynamics; this is understandably a hot topic, so we won't get into it here.
This area is also the location of Hell, Michigan. Yes we do have a city called Hell. Yes Hell has frozen over many times.
Worthy of note are Southeast Michigan's major institutions of higher education other than the University of Michigan:
Wayne State University: A public school in Detroit itself, it has a reasonably decent medical school and law school, and is in a fairly safe part of the city. Nevertheless gets tarred with the "It's in Detroit, it must be dangerous" brush.
University of Detroit-Mercy: A private Catholic college, noted for its surprising prowess at basketball. (Still, it hasn't gotten past the second round of March Madness. Curses.) Also, it is notably surrounded by spiked fences and has a secured driveway.
Oakland University: Situated in the comfortable suburb of Rochester. Formerly Michigan State University at Rochester, it won its independence—to the relief of the MSU administration in East Lansing—in the 1960s, it currently acts as a commuter college, but it also has a strong nursing program. Their campus is home to the only Chick-fil-A in the state.
Eastern Michigan University: Located in Ann Arbor's poorer, sadder twin Ypsilanti. Originally founded as a teachers' college, it currently acts as the University of Michigan's poorer, sadder twin (noticing a theme here?). It nevertheless still has an excellent College of Education, although it was surpassed by Michigan State sometime in the 1950s or '60s.
Mid-Michigan: Centered on the state capital, Lansing. Moderately populated, its economy is dependent on agriculture, some industry (if you're driving a Cadillac in America, it was probably made in Lansing), government (around Lansing), and education (around Lansing and Mt. Pleasant). The Lansing area plays host to one major university (Michigan State University, in East Lansing), one significant third-tier law school (Cooley, in Downtown Lansing) a vocational college (Davenport University, again in downtown), besides the obligatory community college. Mount Pleasant is home to Central Michigan University, which is respectable enough for a "directional" college. Jackson, in the south-central part of the state, is roughly the midway point between between Ann Arbor and Lansing (traveling northwest) and between Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo (traveling roughly due west); it is notable in Michigan for playing host to Michigan's most important maximum-security prison and being the birthplace of the Republican Party.note This last is somewhat ironic, as Jackson is named after Andrew Jackson, the founder of the Democratic Party in its current institutional form. Flint—essentially Detroit-like, but smaller—can be considered part of Mid-Michigan (with the Tri-Cities of Saginaw, Bay City, and Midland), Southeast Michigan, or...
The Thumb: A flat region corresponding to the "thumb" of the "mitten". Mostly agricultural. Thomas Edison grew up in its largest city, Port Huron, which is a major crossing to Canada (the Blue Water Bridge connects Port Huron to Sarnia, Ontario, and is probably the most direct route for most Michiganders to Toronto).note Where the Thumb ends and Southeast and Mid-Michigan end is a local point of contention. It's universally agreed that all of Tuscola, Huron, and Sanilac Counties are in the Thumb, but depending on who you ask, the thumb also includes Lapeer and St. Clair Counties, as well as portions of northern Macomb and Oakland Counties and maybe even eastern Genesee County. This is deadly Serious Business to some. It all depends on whether you believe The Thumb is a geographic region, a political region, an economic region, or just where the thumb would be if Michigan were a hand.
West Michigan: Often called the West Coast, since it lies on the shore of Lake Michigan. Centered on Grand Rapids, the state's second-largest city, which was historically a major base for the furniture industry; today, the most famous company in the city is "multi-level marketing" consumer goods companyAmway. Also home to large numbers of stern Dutch Calvinists (to the point that there's a town of Holland just west of Grand Rapids with an annual tulip festival, wooden shoes, and a Dutch Reformed seminary/college), with a predictable effect on the region's politics: although the city of Grand Rapids itself is quite liberal (having been abandoned by the Dutch and taken over by Catholic Italians, Poles, and Latinos), the region as a whole is considered a very safe seat for the Republicans.note And now you know why there's Freestate Amsterdam: the stern Christians went off to Michigan.
The more rural areas are noted for their fruit production, including viticulture (i.e. wine); Lake Michigan increases rainfall and moderates the climate, making the whole coast heaven for fruit farmers. Also heavily dependent on tourism: there are lots of nice beaches on the lake shoreline, which attract people from elsewhere in the state (and other places; people from Chicago and its suburbs come too) in the summertime.
Southwest Michigan—near the border with Indiana—has its own dynamic. The parts closer to the middle, like Kalamazoo, note Yes, there is a Kalamazoo; it's in Michigan, there's a good chance that any pharmaceuticals you're taking were researched and manufactured there, and it's very nice are a bit more like Mid-Michigan, but the far southwest is another story. It's closer to Chicago than anything else, and could be considered to be an outpost of Greater Chicagoland. Historically quite industrial; now quite depressed. A sort of mirror image of Detroit and its suburbs has popped up, with St. Joseph being predominantly rich and white and Benton Harbor, across the St. Joseph River, being predominantly poor and black.
Kalamazoo plays host to two educational institutions—Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College. WMU is notable for being a party school (nicknamed "Wastern") rather like Indiana's Purdue University, but of a substantially lower caliber in most areas except for Medieval Studies, while Kalamazoo is a liberal arts college notable for sending all its undergrads abroad for a year and being ridiculously expensive. However, two other areas in which WMU has long held much prestige are vocal jazz (their vocal-jazz ensemble "Gold Company" has a long track record for winning the highest awards for collegiate vocal jazz music) and its aviation program. Many of the nation's air-traffic controllers earned their credentials at WMU. Another major attraction there is the Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum, known to locals as the "Air Zoo". Consisting of two buildings (which are far enough apart to require a short drive), its aircraft collection is surprisingly diverse and rich, and includes one of the only two SR-71B "Blackbird" trainer aircraft ever built (the sole surviving B). Also nearby is the Gilmore Car Museum (an automotive history collection rivalling that of even the Motor City itself).
East of Kalamazoo but still in the Lower Peninsula's southwestern quadrant is Battle Creek, which is somewhat famous for being the breakfast cereal capital of the world. Home of two of the nation's big three cereal brands: Kellogg's and Post (well, it's the birthplace of Post, only Kellogg's still has its world headquarters in Battle Creek)
Northern Michigan: Or should we say Northern Lower Michigan. Sparsely populated; while there's a fair amount of agriculture in the area, there's also a lot of wilderness. There's a line running roughly from Muskegon (on the West Coast) to Bay City, south of which lives over 80% of Michigan's population. Folks from south of the line often go "up north" to this part of the state to get away; hunting and fishing are popular, although other forms of tourism are also important to the economy. Very few areas of dense population.
Traverse City—roughly at the "pinky" of the "mitten" is noted for its fruit production (the lake effect moderating its climate), particularly cherries and grapes (so, yes, you snobs and drunkards, wine). Even crops considered to be warm-weather (like peaches) can thrive in the region. Also home to a film festival started by Michael Moore; locals have mixed feelings about this.
People also have a good if rather immature laugh at the expense of Gaylord, which has precisely two claims to fame: being exactly halfway between the North Pole and Equator (at 45 degrees north) and being the smallest city in the US with a Roman Catholic cathedral. (And probably the smallest city in the US to have a TJ Maxx, but the jury's still out.)
Another notable tourist town in northern Michigan is Oscoda, where the first known Paul Bunyan stories were published. It had a massive Air Force base (Wurtsmith) until 1993. Alpena still has the area's largest commercial airport.
The Upper Peninsula: Even more sparsely-populated and wilderness-covered than Northern Lower Michigan, with an economy broadly similar to that region. Its inhabitants ("Yoopers") are considered to be a breed of their own, with a distinctive dialect that sounds more Minnesota than Michigan, thanks to heavy Scandinavian (particularly Finnish) immigration. It gets thicker as you approach the border with Wisconsin. Call other Michiganders "trolls" because they live "under da bridge" (the Mackinac Bridge, which carries I-75 from St. Ignace in the UP to Mackinaw City in the LP). Yoopers have on occasion threatened to secede from Michigan and either join Wisconsin or form their own state of Superior; these proposals have gotten nowhere, but have brought attention to the UP's grievances.
Other facts about Michigan:
The two largest Universities in the state are the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Michigan State University (in East Lansing, which is immediately east of Lansing). The two Universities are leading National Research Institutions and they share an intense, in-state rivalry with each other in sports...and everything else.note Academically, consensus holds that MSU's best programs are better than their equivalents at Michigan, but that Michigan is better on average—if only because Michigan is often the "safety school" for East Coasters who just missed the Ivy League. MSU, on the other hand—and in particular its best programs—is a highly-desired target school for less well-off kids from Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Additionally, people in the know note the remarkable number of University of Chicago grads who go on to become MSU profs and and the number of MSU grads who go on to study at [UChicago]; they tend think of MSU as a sort of public-university outpost of Chicago. How friendly this rivalry gets depends on who you ask; since many Michiganders have relatives who went to both, there's often a desire to keep the peace, but others regard the other school as The Enemy (or at U of M, The Second Enemy, The First Enemy being Ohio State), with whom there is no reconciliation. If Michigan State is playing against Ohio State, U of M will be angry no matter the result. U of M feels they're the only school allowed to defeat Michigan State, but they also don't want MSU to rob them of the opportunity to conquer the Buckeyes. The rivalry against Ohio State stems all the way back to Michigan's birth as a state, during which the then-Michigan Territory declared war on Ohio over who the city of Toledo belonged to. This border dispute awarded the Toledo Strip to Ohio and gave Michigan the Upper Peninsula as a "consolation". Some Michiganders remain bitter to this day about the whole debacle even though Wisconsin arguably was the state hurt the most by the "Toledo War" and in the long run Michigan actually made out quite well with the Upper Peninsula's abundant natural resources.note Not that Ohio has forgotten the grudge; every true Ohioan knows a certain ditty that starts, We don't give a damn about the whole state of Michigan...
The state has four major professional sports teams, all centered in Detroit. They include the Detroit Tigers (Baseball), the Detroit Lions (Football), The Detroit Red Wings (Ice Hockey) and the Detroit Pistons (Basketball). Minor-league teams also abound in Michigan, particularly with baseball and ice hockey—particularly the latter, with one major development team (the Grand Rapids Griffins) and three top-tier/major junior hockey teams (in the Ontario Hockey League, the Saginaw Spirit; in the United States Hockey League and the Muskegeon Lumberjacks and the USA Hockey National Team Development Program based in Ann Arbornote This team gathers under-18 players who show promise to become elite players to train for international amateur competitions NHL players are ineligible for either because of age or professionalism.). We should also note that of Michigan's 13 public universities, eight field Division I men's ice hockey teams.
Bowling. Michigan is the "Bowling Capital of the World;" by most estimates, there are more bowling centers per person in Michigan than anywhere else in the US, or in the world for that matter. Pretty much everyone in Michigan knows how to bowl, and bowling alleys are very common points of family entertainment in the daytime and early evening, turning into a bar-type setting later at night. This trend is most pronounced in Southeast Michigan, but really, bowling is big statewide.
Euchre. Euchre is popular. If you don't know how to play, you're not from here. You don't have to be any good; you just have to know how to play.
The wilderness and going "up north." The northern part of the state, as mentioned, has a lot of wilderness and other protected areas—most of it forested. Michigan has the nation's largest state-forest system, with 3.9 million acres under state protection; the US Forest Service also owns about 2.8 million acres. Combined with the state park system and national parks and lakeshores in the state, about one-fifth of the land in Michigan is protected—and none of this counts privately-held land that people simply aren't developing (which amounts to at least 2 million acres). Naturally, all this natural beauty leads to all kinds of nature-related tourism. Michiganders from the heavily-populated south—particularly Southeast Michigan—commonly go "up north" to camp, fish, swim, and hunt in the large wilderness and semi-wilderness. Many own cabins or cottages, providing a base of operations for all this outdoorsy fun. Of course, the people who live up north also know about all this and fish and hunt more than the tourists—the stereotype of the Yoopers is that all they do is hunt. Virtually everyone in the state knows when firearm hunting season starts for deer (November 15, in case you're wondering).
A related phenomenon on the west coast of the state (on Lake Michigan) is the influx of tourists who flock to the region's beaches (yes, Lake Michigan has beaches—and pretty ones, we might add). Many of these come from Chicago and environs; like the Detroiters who have cabins and cottages in the forest, the better-off ones will often have lakehouses in Michigan. This can cause some friction, and so people from the Michigan West Coast are liable to call these tourists "FIPs"—"Fucking Illinois People."
Beer. Time was, Wisconsin was where the breweries were. But for some reason, the craft beer thing really caught on in Michigan—even more than in traditional brewing regions. Michigan today has two of the largest and most widely-distributed craft breweries in the country (Founders out of Grand Rapids and Bell's out of Kalamazoo; neither is a "true" microbrewery, as they produce more beer than that). There are at least a dozen more craft breweries in the state, and really, Michiganders have gotten rather used to the idea of being a "Great Beer State"—these beers are increasingly a source of state pride and a symbol of renewal in a state that really needs a drink sometimes. The state government has even cautiously made moves that would encourage the industry and Michigan beer culture, starting with a bill in the State Senate in 2013 that would impose a British/German-style requirement that a pint at a bar always contain exactly 16 oz.
Works set in Michigan:
See all works on the page for Detroit for works set in Detroit and Metro Detroit.
Bob Seger: Born in Dearborn, grew up in Ann Arbor. Still lives in a northwest suburb of Detroit.
The Stooges: Formed in Ann Arbor. Iggy Pop was born in West Michigan.
Jeff Daniels grew up in Chelsea and attended Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant
Magic Johnson is originally from Lansing, and his decision to attend Michigan State was in part driven by a desire to stay close to his family.note It might surprise you, but he actually didn't expect to make a career out of basketball. Magic took his studies in communications quite seriously until a few months before the Lakers drafted him, at which point he realized that he really was destined to be a pro baller.
Gerald Ford, of course (though he was actually born in Omaha).
Charles Lindbergh was born in Detroit.
Gilda Radner was born in Detroit.
Ellen Burstyn was born in Detroit.
Lily Tomlin was born and raised in Detroit.
Motown entertainers, including the Supremes, Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas (Martha Reeve is now a Detroit councilwoman), Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, etc.
As was Eminem (albeit born in Missouri). Hence those "Imported from Detroit" commercials that Chrysler's been running.
James Earl Jones was raised in Jackson, after moving away from his family in Mississippi at age five. He's still the narrator for the "Please come here" video for the University of Michigan (from which he graduated in 1955).
Incidentally, Ford's racism is responsible for making Metro Detroit in general and Dearborn in particular the single largest Arab community in North America: Ford hated black people so much he preferred to bring in workers from Yemen and Lebanon , paying their fares across the Atlantic, rather than hire blacks. The Arab immigration established a nucleus that snowballed into what it is today.
Terry O'Quinn grew up in Newberry in the Upper Peninsula and went to Central Michigan University.
Madonna, born in Bay City, raised in Rochester Hills.