The state of Michigan is unique for several reasons. Not only is it the only state with two peninsulas, but it became ground zero for automobile manufacturing in the 20th century. There are many more things the Great Lake State is known for, however. As such, let’s learn about 20 things Michigan is known for. Some are obvious, but others, are quite fascinating.
To compile a list of the 20 things Michigan is known for, 24/7 Tempo consulted a range of tourist, state, and lifestyle sources including Nomads Unveiled, and Arena C County Government. Next, we selected things that were the most compelling and had the biggest cultural impact. After that, we confirmed specific information about the state using sites like The State of Michigan and Pure Michigan.
Traverse City Cherries
One thing Michigan is known for is its abundant cherry crop. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Traverse City, Michigan, which is called the Cherry Capital of the World. With its vast expanses of cherry orchards, it is no surprise that the city also hosts the annual Cherry Festival.
There, all things cherry are celebrated. Be it juices, pieces, arts and crafts, or even the funky Cherry Pit Spitting Championship, Traverse knows the cherry better than anywhere else in the United States. (For other peculiar regional traditions, discover famous, unique, and even weird traditions in every state.)
The Great Lakes
Something Michigan is known for, perhaps more than anything, is The Great Lakes. The state itself is flanked on all sides by Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, Lake Huron, and Lake Superior. Functioning as Michigan’s oceans, The Great Lakes are the largest freshwater lakes on Earth.
Consequently, more than half of Michigan’s coastlines fall along the various Great Lakes. Besides holding the most freshwater of any land mass in the world, the Great Lakes have played a pivotal role in the history and development of Michigan. In the past, they served a key role in transporting goods and people. Nowadays, the Great Lakes factor heavily into Michigan’s economy and way of living.
Coney Island Hot Dog
Don’t be fooled by the very tristate name, another thing that Michigan is well known for is the Coney Island Hot Dog. It is comprised of a hotdog in a bun, slathered in chili, and topped with onions and mustard. This may sound like your garden variety chili dog, but to the residents of Michigan, particularly Detroit, it is a culinary staple.
Like many other regional food delights, however, the Coney Island’s Hot Dog’s providence is steeped in mystery. Some credit Greek immigrants to the area while others credit a New York Hot Dog vendor attempting to cater to his Greek clientele. Either way, the Coney Island Hot Dog has become a dish that defines the Detroit food experience.
Lighthouse Capital of the World
With Michigan’s miles and miles of coastline, it should come as no surprise that the state is chock-full of lighthouses. Due to the over 115 lighthouses along its shores, Michigan is known as the Lighthouse Capital of the World. With Michigan’s inextricable ties to the surrounding lakes, these lighthouses played a critical role in the maritime history of the state.
These aren’t just shabby little structures either. Some of the Michigan lighthouses, like Point Betsie Lighthouse, are considered some of the most photogenic lighthouses on Earth. Another great thing about this fixture of Michigan is that most of the lighthouses are now open to the public.
One thing Michigan is most assuredly known for is Motor City. Be it Detroit, the surrounding areas, or even other cities like Flint, Michigan is a state steeped in automobile history. More than that, Detroit is the literal home of the automobile industry in the United States.
After Henry Ford established his motor company there, he revolutionized the manufacturing industry with an assembly line process that made the once-expensive car an accessible purchase for the masses. Even though the automotive heyday of Detroit has passed, it still serves as a crucial center of car design and innovation.
Floating Post Office
One thing Michigan is known for, and the only state that can lay claim to, is the floating post office. Given how many lakes there are in Michigan, it makes sense for the state to have such a unique function. Operating out of the boat, The J.W. Prescott II, mail is delivered to passing ships cruising up and down the lakes.
Founded by young ship captain John Ward, the service started as a way to ferry supplies to transiting ships. After that, the company created a system of delivering messages to these ships. It worked so well, so efficiently, that the USPS took notice and granted the service its very own zip code. A staple of the Great Lakes, the floating post office has been in continuous service since 1874.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Another thing, or rather a place, Michigan is known for is Sleeping Bear Dunes, National Park. Extending over 35 miles of Lake Michigan’s eastern coastline, Sleeping Bear Dunes features forests, beaches, and the unique dune formations that give the park its name.
What’s more, Sleeping Bear Dunes features unique landmarks like three former Coast Guard Stations, the South Manitou Island Lighthouse, as well as a large historic farm district. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was even named the most beautiful place in America by “Good Morning America” in 2011.
Death Penalty (or Lack Thereof)
Another thing Michigan is known for is its historically progressive approach to the death penalty. Influenced by the alarming number of wrongful convictions at the time, Michigan was the first state to abolish the death penalty completely back in 1847.
This groundbreaking decision was unheard of at the time, but it has had a ripple effect on the rest of the United States. Nowadays, over 20 different states have also banned the death penalty completely. Indeed, this is all thanks to Michigan and its revolutionary step towards punitive restraint in the 19th century.
The Henry Ford Museum
Considering the deep automotive history and culture of Michigan, another thing the state is known for is The Henry Ford Museum. The museum features a litany of moments from car and plane-making history, including a gaggle of historic automobiles and even the Wright Brother’s workshop.
The museum also contains a series of artifacts from American History. These include John F. Kennedy’s limousine, Rosa Park’s bus, and even the chair in which Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. What’s more, The Henry Ford Museum is the largest indoor-outdoor museum complex in the United States.
No list of the things Michigan is known for would be complete without a mention of Motown Records. Founded by Berry Gordy in 1959, Motown played a pivotal role in not only the proliferation of soul music but also the racial integration of popular music in general.
Even today, Motown Records has remained relevant with its inclusion of some of the top hip-hop and R&B artists currently working. Beyond that, Detroit features the Motown Museum. There, the history and impact of Motown Records are on display, taking visitors through its revolutionary music history.
The Fruit Belt
Another thing Michigan is known for is its lush, fertile soil and climate for fruits. Due to a confluence of the state’s temperate climate and the weather-moderating effect of the nearby Great Lakes, Michigan is a prime place for most types of fruit farming and cultivation.
So much so, that the southwestern region of the state has become known as The Fruit Belt. Be it apples, grapes, or blueberries, Michigan is one of the leading fruit producers in the United States. For visitors, it is best to come during harvest season, when farmers markets across the area sell their bountiful, delicious crops.
Detroit Windsor Underground Tunnel
Another thing Michigan is known for is the Detroit Windsor Underground Tunnel. This feat of civil engineering is the first tunnel to connect two countries (The United States and Canada). What’s more, the tunnel spans an impressive 1,811 feet from Detroit, Michigan to Winsor, Ontario in Canada.
Though structures like it are commonplace in the modern age, the Detroit Windsor Underground Tunnel was a true engineering marvel when it was built. To even make the tunnel possible, workers had to build a cofferdam and divert a whole section of the large Detroit River.
The Cereal Capital of the World
Much like cherries, another thing Michigan is known for is being the cereal capital of the world. That’s because the state, particularly the city of Battle Creek was the founding place of Kellogg’s cereal. A failed traveling salesman, W.K. Kellogg went to work for his brother at a sanitarium and hit upon gold after accidentally spilling cornmeal on a heated surface.
Consequently, the Corn Flake was born. That’s not all, however, as the invention of Corn Flakes in Battle Creek inspired C.W. Post to create his unique brand of cereal in the city called Grape Nuts. Because of this, the city of Battle Creek is nicknamed “The Cereal City.” Thus, Michigan became the Cereal Capital of the World.
Another thing Michigan is known for is Mackinac Island, which is anchored between the closest points of Michigan’s two peninsulas. Named after the Ojibwemowin word for great turtle, Mackinac Island was originally a crucial center of the 18th and 19th centuries fur trade.
It was such an important place that two battles during the War of 1812 were fought there. Nowadays, however, Mackinac Island is a tourist haven and summer colony for Michigan’s residents. What’s more, the island features so many unique architectural landmarks the entire landmass is registered as a National Historic Landmark.
“The Big House” at the University of Michigan
One thing Michigan loves is college football. Furthermore, one of the things it’s known for is its giant, labyrinthine sports complex at the University of Michigan. Affectionately nicknamed “The Big House,” the Michigan Stadium is the largest in the United States and the third largest on Earth.
Though it was built in 1927 with a capacity of 72,000 people, every game played there since 1975 has drawn crowds of over 100,000. What’s more, in 2013, a game between Michigan and Notre Dame attracted the largest crowd in NCAA history with 115,109 people in attendance.
Vernors Ginger Ale
Another thing that Michigan is known for is being the birthplace of Vernors Ginger Ale. Created in 1866 by James Vernor, a pharmacist in Detroit, Vernor sold his ginger ale as a soda pop, though many found it to be effective for treating ailments like stomach aches.
Conversely, Vernors Ginger Ale is the oldest surviving ginger ale sold in the United States. Besides being used for stomach aches, many Detroit residents add it as seasoning for food dishes. Vernors is such a staple of Michigan that the Detroit Historical Society put on an exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of the popular ginger soda. (For other region-specific beverages, discover iconic drinks from every state that everyone should try.)
The Only Bi-Peninsular State
As alluded to briefly in previous points, another thing Michigan is known for is being the only bi-peninsular state. Its unique geography makes Michigan the only non-coastal state that isn’t landlocked.
The uncanny resemblance of the lower peninsula to a mitten and the upper peninsula’s resemblance to a hand has led the two regions to be called “The Mitten State” and “The Hand.” While the lower peninsula features all of Michigan’s major cities, the upper peninsula is coveted by nature lovers for its dense forests, large lakes, and untapped nature.
Isle Royal National Park
Another thing Michigan is known for is its beautiful National Park of Isle Royal. Situated on the edge of Lake Superior, Isle Royal National Park is the largest island in Lake Superior as well as the third-largest island in the contiguous United States. Covering nearly 900 square miles, the Park was first established in April of 1940.
Since then, Isle Royal National Park has become a premier tourist destination in Michigan. With its rugged landscape and dense forests, not only is it a microcosm of Michigan’s nature. Plus, it also features rare animals like wolves and moose. If you’re a backpacker or even a birdwatcher, Isle Royal is the place to visit.
Another thing Michigan is known for is its Shipwreck Coast. While the epic Great Lakes are a beautiful sight, historically they were treacherous for many passing ships. This has caused the shoreline of the state along Lake Superior to be nicknamed “the shipwreck coast.”
Nowadays, the coastline serves as a testament and graveyard to historic ships. What’s more, the area features the Alger Underwater Preserve. There, people can scuba dive under the surface and explore the spooky remnants of dozens of ships that crashed there.
The First Outdoor Pedestrian Shopping Mall
One other thing Michigan is known for is being the place with the first outdoor pedestrian shopping mall. Though these have become relatively ubiquitous in the modern age, this pedestrian shopping mall in Grand Rapids was a revolutionary idea when it was first created.
The brainchild of city planner Victor Gruen, the mall opened in 1974 with the express purpose of prioritizing people over vehicles. Though this mall fell into decline over time and was eventually demolished, it was the likely inspiration for the shopping mall in your local area. (If you’re looking for a more southern state, discover 20 things North Carolina is known for.)