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How Technology Shaped Michigan’s History


On October 25, 1889 an underwater telephone cable across the Straits of Mackinac made the first permanent connection between Michigan’s two peninsulas, helping shape the state we have today.

Agriculture has deep roots in Michigan but the state’s use was changed greatly when communication between Michigan’s Peninsulas became easier with the addition of telecommunications.

The indigenous tribes were the first inhabitants. They supported themselves through a combination of hunting and gathering as well as simple agricultural techniques. Their modest plots produced corn, beans, peas, squash, and pumpkins.

When French explorers made their way, they found the land virtually untouched. Those explorers did little farming and mostly just tried to sustain themselves as the crown’s New World interests centered more on the lucrative lumber and fur trades than on agriculture. A notable exception was in the cultivation of fruit trees, especially pear and apple, and the French developed three new apple varieties in and around Detroit.

Early development of Michigan was deterred by a number of factors: the continuing presence of hostile fur traders, the prospect of British rule, and a series of unfavorable land survey reports kept many prospective farmers from coming into the territory. One survey described Michigan as a land of swamps and sand, discouraging potential inhabitants from purchasing land.

A few key factors changed everything. On October 26, 1825 the Erie Canal opened a new and easy route to the territory via the Great Lakes and Detroit, and by 1833, federal Indian policies had removed most Native Americans to the west of the Mississippi. This paved the way for government land surveys and, thus, for increased agricultural settlement. It was these government surveys that divided the land into sections and townships, designations that still apply. The addition of Chicago Road, Monroe Pike, and other transportation arteries provided easy access from principal entry points such as Detroit. People arrived in such numbers that between 1820 and 1834, the population increased tenfold. By the time Michigan was about to become a state, Michigan Territory had become the most popular destination of people moving west.

By the turn of the century, the Industrial Revolution was transforming Michigan. The introduction of the telephone and the automobile revolutionized communication. Transportation, and rural isolation, was broken. Michigan’s two peninsulas were now united, though not by land.



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