We Are Detroit

We Are Detroit

A brief history of the city’s evolving demographics

1701 Frenchman Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac and his party of soldiers and fur traders are the first recorded European settlers. Cadillac oversees the construction of Fort Ponchartrain (right), establishes a settlement within its walls, and invites the region's native people to live near, but not in, the compound.
1751 The first German in the area, Michael Yax, starts farming in what is now Grosse Pointe.
1763 The French cede Detroit to Great Britain as part of the treaty that ends the French and Indian War.
1793 Jacob Young purchases property from a French settler, becoming the first black person to own land in Detroit.
1796 Two-thirds of Detroiters are French. Dutch, Germans, and enslaved African-Americans also live here.
1825 The first wave of German immigration to Detroit begins, as the opening of the Erie Canal greatly eases travel from the eastern U.S. to the Great Lakes.
1830 Irish immigrants begin settling west of Woodward Avenue in a neighborhood they call Corktown (most of them are from County Cork), now the city's oldest.
1830s Germans are the first Europeans to settle the area now known as Greektown. Along with Polish immigrants, they are a major source of population growth from the 1860s to the 1890s; for decades, Germans comprise the city's largest ethnic group.
1840s Waves of Irish arrive in the wake of the Great Irish Potato Famine.
1855 Italian immigrants begin settling on the east side of the city.
1857 Polish immigrants begin arriving in large numbers.
Early 1870s The first Middle Eastern settlers in the Detroit area are Lebanese, most of them Christians.
1880 Over 40 nationalities are represented in Detroit's population of 116,342 in the U.S. Census.
1890-1914 A new wave of Italian immigrants arrives.
Late 1890s Greek immigration begins, peaking in 1910–1914.

  • - 1701: Frenchman Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac and his party of soldiers and fur traders are the first recorded European settlers. Cadillac oversees the construction of Fort Ponchartrain, establishes a settlement within its walls, and invites the region’s native people to live near, but not in, the compound.

  • - Adelaide DeQuindre's marriage to Detroit landowner Joseph Campau combines two local French families, but they live to see Detroit become dominated by non-French populations.

  • - By 1836, the date of this painting, Detroit had several thousand residents—largely a mixture of French, German, and Irish. Most of its streets were wooden plank, but downtown the streets were cobblestone. Mail service connected the young city to the east coast, and daily stagecoaches ran between Detroit and Chicago. By 1840, Detroit's population had grown to more than 9,000, and Michigan Territory had become the nation's 26th state.

  • - From 1841 to 1891, Cadillac Square was home to the Detroit farmers market. By the time this photo was taken, ca. 1880, significant numbers of Italian and Polish immigrants were moving to the rapidly growing city.

  • - In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, professional and amateur photographers alike documented life in metro Detroit’s thriving Polish communities on the city’s eastside, westside, and in Hamtramck. Portraits like this one, ca. 1905, from the F.G. Poli studio, were intended both for immediate family in metro Detroit and for exchange with relatives living in Poland.

  • - Students at Saints Peter and Paul Academy, a grade school in an Irish Catholic Parish on Parsons St., ca. 1905

  • - Italian produce vendor at Eastern Market, ca. 1900.

  • - Among the flood of immigrants to come to Detroit in the early 20th century in pursuit of a better life were Armenians, such as these shoemakers at work in Leon G. Nahnikian’s shoe repair and tailor shop, on Henry Street, ca. 1917.

  • - Maltese immigrants at an Americanization metting in a private home on Michigan Ave., 1920.

  • - Spurred by the availability of jobs due to the departure of workers for service in World War I, African Americans arrive in Detroit at the rate of 1,000 per month throughout the summer, part of “The Great Migration” of African Americans from the rural South to northern industrial cities.

  • - On September 14, 1930, noted Detroit photographer Harvey C. Jackson took this photograph of the medical staff, trustee board, and corps of nurses of Dunbar Memorial Hospital. Opened in 1917 and named for the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, Dunbar Memorial was the first hospital for African Americans in Detroit. The original hospital building, at 580 Frederick Street, is now a museum and headquarters for the Detroit Medical Society.

  • - Syrian fruit vendors in Detroit, ca. 1920s.

  • - A chinese worker in the Hudson Motor Car plant, working on Curtis dive bombers, 1944

  • - The work of Chilean artist Dasic Fernandez, this mural on the side of Detroit’s Hacienda Mexican Foods building (6022 W. Vernor Highway) is known as Mano de Obra Campesina. Fernandez wanted to create an image to suggest the labor that goes into the production of people’s daily food, especially in Mexicantown.

  • - An Arab-American business owner, Vernor-Dix-Wyoming area, ca. 1982

  • - Latino students at Webster Elementary in Southwest Detroit, 1981.

1914 The Ford Motor Company announces that instead of $2.34 for nine hours' labor, most workers will make $5 for eight hours.
1917 Spurred by the availability of jobs due to the departure of workers for service in World War I, African Americans arrive in Detroit at the rate of 1,000 per month throughout the summer, part of "The Great Migration" of African Americans from the rural South to northern industrial cities.
1920 Detroit's population is 993,678, up 113 percent from 1910. African Americans make up 4.1 percent of the total, a 611 percent increase over the same time span.
1930 Nine thousand Arabic speakers are among the residents of Detroit; 6,000 of them are Syrians.
1940s Mexicans begin settling southwest of Corktown, in what is now known as Mexicantown. In 2010, Detroit has 48,679 Hispanics, a 70 percent increase from 1990.
1940-1970 Some historians refer to this period as "The Second Great Migration." More than 66 percent of Detroit's black population in 1950 comes from outside the area. Many people from Appalachia also settle in the city after World War II.
1950 Detroit's population reaches its height to date at 1.85 million. About 55,000 are of Middle Eastern ancestry.
1980 Sixty-three percent of Detroit's population is African-American, the first time the U.S. Census shows them in the majority.