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Michigan FAQ


Where is Michigan?

Michigan is made up of two major peninsulas of land separated by the Straits of Mackinac. It is bordered on the south at 42º north latitude by the states of Ohio and Indiana. Its northernmost border, at 48º north latitude, lies in Lake Superior north of the shore of Isle Royale. Michigan lies between 82°30' to about 90º30' west longitude. It is bordered on the west by Lake Michigan and Wisconsin, and on the east by Ontario, Canada; Lake Huron and Lake Erie; and Detroit River and St. Clair River.

Michigan covers 58,110 square miles of land, 38,575 square miles of Great Lakes waters and 1,305 square miles of inland waters. (See Michigan on a map of the United States.)

Visit the Michigan Department of Transportation web site to request a copy of the state transportation map or learn about the various maps that may be purchased.

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What does the name "Michigan" mean?

"Michigan" comes from the Indian word Michigama, meaning "great lake" or "big lake." The French first used the word for the Great Lake that Native Americans called the "Lake of the Illinois"—now Lake Michigan. It was first used officially to refer to the land area when Congress created the Territory of Michigan in 1805.

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When was Michigan settled?

Native Americans have lived in the area called Michigan since the last ice age glacier retreated about 10,000 years ago. Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit priest, established the first permanent French settlement at Sault Ste. Marie in 1668. Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac led the French to Detroit in 1701. The British gained possession of this region in 1760 after the French and Indian War. After the American Revolutionary War it became part of the United States under the Treaty of Paris of 1783. However, the British did not turn this area over to the Americans until 1796. Maps show it as part of the Northwest Territory in 1787 and part of the Michigan Territory in 1805. Michigan was admitted to the Union as the 26th state on January 26, 1837.

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Where is Michigan's state capitol?

The original territorial capitol in Detroit served as the first state capitol. In 1847, the capital city was moved to Lansing. A white frame building served as the first capitol in Lansing. Today's capitol at the intersection of Michigan and Capitol avenues in Lansing, designed by Elijah E. Myers, was dedicated on January 1, 1879.

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What are Michigan's largest cities?

Ranked by population, Michigan's three largest cities are Detroit (951,270), Grand Rapids (197,800) and Warren (138,247). The state capital Lansing (119,128) ranks sixth among Michigan's largest cities. The largest city in the Upper Peninsula ranks 55th overall—Marquette (19,661).

Among all 50 states, Michigan ranks eighth in population, with 9,938,444 people living in the Great Lake State. (All data: 2000 U.S. Census)

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How long is Michigan's shoreline?

Michigan's shoreline is 3,288 miles long, a figure that includes 1,056 miles of island shoreline. According to the 2000 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia, only Alaska has more shoreline (6,640 miles). See a comparison of Great Lakes states' shorelines.

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Who was Michigan's first governor?

Stevens T. Mason served as the first governor of the state of Michigan from 1835 to 1839. (Michigan held its first state election more than a year before it was admitted to the Union.) See the names and terms of Michigan's governors.

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What time is it in Michigan?

Most of Michigan is in the United States Eastern Time zone. Four counties in the western Upper Peninsula that share their southern border with the state of Wisconsin are in the U.S. Central Time zone. They are Gogebic, Iron, Dickinson and Menominee Counties. Michigan uses Daylight Saving Time from 2 a.m. on the second Sunday in March until 2 a.m. on the first Sunday in November.

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Why is Michigan sometimes called "The Wolverine State?"

Michigan has long had an unofficial nickname: "The Wolverine State." However, evidence seems to show that wolverines in Michigan would have been rare. We don't know exactly how the state got the nickname, but two stories attempt to explain it.

Some people believe that Ohioans gave Michigan the nickname around 1835 during a dispute over the Toledo strip, a piece of land along the border between Ohio and Michigan. Rumors in Ohio at the time described Michiganians as being as vicious and bloodthirsty as wolverines. This dispute became known as the Toledo War.

Another reason given for the nickname is a story that has Native Americans, during the 1830s, comparing Michigan settlers to wolverines. Some native people, according to this story, disliked the way settlers were taking the land because it made them think of how the gluttonous wolverine went after its food.

Another nickname for Michigan is the "Great Lake State." Michigan's shores touch four of the five Great Lakes, and Michigan has more than 11,000 inland lakes. In Michigan, you are never more than six miles from an inland lake or more than 85 miles from a Great Lake. From 1969 to 1975 and from 1977 to 1983, Michigan's automobile license plates featured the legend, GREAT LAKE STATE.

Some references to Michigan during the early 20th century also called the state "The Peninsula State."

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Does Michigan have an official state children's book?

Michigan has an "officially recognized" state book: The Legend of the Sleeping Bear by Kathy-Jo Wargin and Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen (Sleeping Bear Press, 1998). On May 7, 1998, the Michigan House of Representatives passed House Resolution No. 286 "commemorating The Legend of the Sleeping Bear as the State of Michigan's official children's book." This is a tribute to an outstanding children's book.

Since 1955 (adoption of the White Pine as the official state tree), official state symbols have been created through an act passed by both Michigan's Senate and House of Representatives and signed into law by the Governor. The book is not an official state symbol.

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What is the pledge to the Michigan state flag?

Michigan has an official pledge of allegiance to its state flag. Written by Harold G. Coburn, it was adopted as Public Act 165 of 1972. (Look up Public Act 165 of 1972 on the Michigan Legislature's Michigan Compiled Laws web site.) This is the pledge: 

I pledge allegiance to the flag of Michigan, and to the state for which it stands, 2 beautiful peninsulas united by a bridge of steel, where equal opportunity and justice to all is our ideal.

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Michiganian or Michigander?

The web site of the Michigan Historical Center uses Michiganian. Michiganian has a long history. It is the term used for the state's citizens in The Collections of the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society since the 1870s . But people who call Michigan their home use the word they like best. There is no "official" term.

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What is Michigan's state song?

Michigan does not have an official state song, but we do have "an official song." Confused? Find out more about Michigan's state songs.

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Contact the Michigan Historical Center.

Updated 07/07/2010

Related Content
 •  Mackinac State Historic Parks Facts
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 •  Michigan Bibliographies
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