When it comes to Michigan, many come in with preconceived notions, and then proceed to have these notions wiped out by the sheer unexpected reality of this sometimes weird, occasionally wild, and commonly wonderful state. So with that in mind, settle in and check out some of the strangest and most exciting information this state has to offer as we spell out 15 fun facts about Michigan.
It may sound strange, but some of the craziest facts about Michigan depend on rocks. Not only is Rogers City home to the world's largest limestone quarry, but Alpena offers the largest cement plant the world has ever known. There's also no larger native source of copper on the planet than in the Upper Peninsula's Copper Country.
If you've ever been in a long car trip on a hot day, you know that about one of the only things that makes it worthwhile—aside from the routine infusion of cold drinks—is air conditioning. Michigan was actually the first state to see this vital summer travel development happen, as the Packard Motor Car Company brought air conditioning to cars before any other automaker, starting in 1939.
Those aforementioned "cold drinks" actually owe a lot to Michigan, as the United States' first soda actually came from Detroit. Vernors Ginger Ale was actually created by a pharmacist of the same name, James Vernor. Vernor's beverage-making aspirations were cut temporarily short by a little thing called the United States Civil War. Four years after his departure, he returned to discover the beverages he'd bottled had taken on an unexpected new flavor, one that actually tasted of ginger. Thus, Vernors Ginger Ale was born.
There's a sports team named after them, and they're the official state animal. But there hasn't actually been a wolverine living wild in Michigan since 2010, when the last known such animal died. In fact, some have moved to replace the now-vanished wolverine with the white-tailed deer, now known as the official state game animal, thanks to its invaluable annual contribution to Michigan's tourist industry for hunters.
Naturally, water is one of the first things to come to mind when considering Michigan thanks to those five big pockets of water surrounding the state known as the Great Lakes. There's a lot more to the water in Michigan than is commonly expected. Michigan has more registered boaters than any other state in the U.S., and has the second-largest total amount of coastline behind only Alaska. It also contains the longest freshwater shoreline in the world, a huge development given how many places are without water. It's actually impossible to drive more than six miles in any direction from anywhere in the state without running into some body of water.
Two places in Michigan actually have quite a bit to do with grains, sufficiently so that they're the foremost figure of such grains in the world. Naturally, most already know about Battle Creek's history as a world capital for cereal, but another more recent entry stepped in as well. The little village of Constantine boasts credit for the production of 10 percent of the entire United States' supply of seed corn all by itself, thus earning it the admittedly self-bestowed title of Seed Corn Capital of the World.
Michigan actually has a lot of firsts when it comes to education, both formal and informal. For instance, the state was the first in the United States to make establishing public libraries a part of its state Constitution. It was also the first to guarantee every child in the state a free high-school education. Its Michigan State University was the first university in the United States founded by land grant, and was the first in the United States to teach agriculture by scientific means.
Police radio is nothing new to most, thanks to its frequent use in the real world and police fiction alike. That all got its start with Michigan, as the Michigan State Police in 1929 were the first to establish a radio system for use by state police. This development didn't take long to catch on, and now radio is a common police tool.
It's hard to believe that tunnels can be a distinctive feature of a state's history, but for Michigan, tunnels are a big part of the picture. Not only is Michigan home to the first international rail tunnel system built underwater—running between Port Huron and Sarnia in Canada—but it's also the home to the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, the first tunnel for car traffic built between two separate countries.
The death penalty is commonly only reserved for the most horrible of crimes, but in Michigan, it's reserved for none at all. With treason being the only exception—and the penalty for treason defined by no less than the Constitution of the United States—Michigan eliminated the death penalty for the state back in 1846. This was not only a big move by state government standards, but by doing so, it became the first English-speaking government to ever eliminate the death penalty within its borders.
Seinfeld viewers might already be familiar with Michigan's unusually generous 10 cents a can return policy, which represents the highest such rate in the United States. What's less clear is the consequences of such an outcome. On the plus side, Michigan has the highest recycling rate in the U.S., but it's also losing money on the deal to the tune of better than $10 million a year. Turns out a lot of out-of-staters want in on this action, much as was the case with the Seinfeld plot.
Michigan is home to at least two alleged varieties of cryptozoological specimens, also known as "cryptids." These potentially fictional beasts include the Michigan Dogman of Wexford County and the "melon heads" of Ottawa County. Dogman sightings date back to 1887, and though there are few documented sightings of melon heads, they go by several names, giving their unusual legend a little extra obfuscation.
Though we all know about Detroit's—and by extension Michigan's—history as an auto-making giant, what's less known is that Michigan holds a special place in paving. In 1908, a strip of Detroit road measuring one mile was paved with concrete. This doesn't sound like anything special today, but thanks to that paving, Detroit took its place as having the first concrete-paved road on the face of the Earth.
In Michigan, there are two types of people. In the Upper Peninsula, they're commonly called "Yoopers," thanks to the phonetics behind Upper Peninsula. The Upper Peninsula becomes the U.P., which becomes the Yoop, and ultimately, its denizens become Yoopers. Yoopers, in turn, refer to those in the Lower Peninsula as "Trolls", because they, much like the troll of "Billy Goats Gruff" fame, live below the Mackinac Bridge, at least if you look at a two-dimensional map where south is down.
Shopping malls are familiar territory for anyone who's been young in the last 30 years or so. The outdoor mall, however, is a bit different, and here Michigan has a claim on an unexpected chunk of history. In Kalamazoo, there's a chunk of downtown that's got plenty of exciting shops to check out, and with that abundance comes a note of history. Kalamazoo's downtown mall is the first outdoor pedestrian shopping mall in the United States, showing the rest of the country that outdoor shopping could indeed be a thing.
The great part is, many of the facts listed above connect to some kind of landmark, city, or location in Michigan, so many of these fun, fast facts can be witnessed in operation to this very day. There's a lot to see and do in Michigan, from the highly specific to the ultimately random, and it's all waiting for you!