A Brief History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

A Fascinating Story

Do you like solitude? Love being alone in nature? Michigan’s Upper Peninsula might be the spot for you. Surprisingly, it makes up 30% of the state’s landmass but only 3% of its population.

Before joining the good ol’ US of A, many different groups claimed the area we now know as the UP. For example, Algonquin speaking peoples lived here roughly 3,000 years ago, and their descendants still do. The French showed up in the 17th Century, and more colonists came as the fur trade picked up. The nosy Brits started poking around not long after. After the two European powers were done bickering, the area was ceded to the English in the mid 18th Century. Not content to let well enough alone, the snooty Brits then bickered some more with the colonists, got the proverbial boot, and the UP ended up in American hands.

When the Territory of Michigan was established in the early 19th Century, it included only part of the UP. Then, for reasons that leave anyone who has ever been to Toledo mystified, Michigan and Ohio had their own little war over the Toledo strip. To help the two states make nice, Andrew Jackson offered to let Michigan keep the entire UP if it gave up claim to Toledo. Right minds prevailed, and Michigan got the better deal.

Not long after Michigan earned statehood, iron and copper were discovered in abundance in the UP. This drew an influx of foreign workers to the area from countries as far away as Finland, Sweden, and Italy, all of whom made their own contribution to UP culture. Cudighis, anyone? Sisu! And let’s not forget the Cornish and their pasties, either. But the heyday of these industries was over by the early 20th Century. Since that time, continued logging and tourism drive the UP economy, greatly aided by the opening of the beautiful Mackinac Bridge in 1957 that finally connected the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan.

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