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The Motor City

The most populous city in the US state of Michigan and the largest city in the border between Canada and the United States, Detroit is one of the American Midwest's leading cities.

With its long history of industrial production and its status as the historic center of the US automobile industry, with the headquarters of the USA's three biggest car companies based in the city, Detroit is often still referred to as "The Motor City", despite the factory closures and deindustrialization of recent years.

Venice, the City of Canals

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The city was given the name Detroit in reference to the Detroit River, which links Lake Huron and Lake Erie: Detroit meaning "strait" or "channel" in French, the language of the first European settlers to arrive in the region in the latter half of the 17th century.

A Brief History of Detroit

  • The area now covered by the city of Detroit has been inhabited by Native American peoples for at least 11,000 years, with the earliest archeological evidence demonstrating the existence of the culture known as the Mound-builders.

    At the time of the arrival of the first European settlers, the region was inhabited by the Huron, Odawa, Potawatomi, and Iroquois peoples.
  • Initially established by the French at the start of the 18th century as a trading post and military base for French interests in North America during the period of struggle between Britain and France for mastery of the continent, Detroit eventually passed under British control in 1763 as a result of the Treaty of Paris which formalized the end of the Seven Year's War (also known as the French and Indian Wars) which began in 1756.
  • Control over Detroit was ceded to the newly founded United States of America in 1783, although British forces did not leave until the mid-1790s.

    After Detroit was officially incorporated as a city in 1806 and briefly placed back under British rule during the War of 1812, it began to grow rapidly, with a population of around 45,000 people by the time of the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861.

    During this tumultuous period in American history, Detroit played a special role as a key stop for thousands of runaway slaves who sought to escape to Canada, due to its location on the border.

    After the Civil War came to an end in 1865, Detroit began to emerge as one of the US's major industrial cities, becoming especially famous for producing cast-iron stoves and pharmaceuticals and attracting ever greater numbers of immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Poland, and Southern Europe.

    In the early 20th century the city had become the center of global automobile production, becoming the base for the Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler car companies and gaining the nickname "Motor City", sometimes affectionately shortened to "Motown".
  • By the 1980s, many of the well-paid manufacturing jobs which had attracted migrants to Detroit for generations had left the city, leaving behind poverty, crime, and discontent.

    However, since the turn of the century a great effort has been made to regenerate the city into a commercial and tourism hub, making the most of Detroit's industrial heritage and its vibrant music and art scene to make it an attractive destination for visitors and new residents alike.

The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation

Located in the suburb of Dearborn, this extensive indoor and outdoor museum complex is the largest in the United States.

With a museum collection that contains highlights such as the presidential limousine of John F. Kennedy, the laboratory of renowned American scientist and inventor Thomas Edison, and the bus upon which black civil rights activist Rosa Parks staged her remarkable protest in 1955 (refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger), the institution is an outstanding treasure trove of American cultural heritage, which tells the story of the nation's history through exhibits mainly focused on transport.

In recent years, the museum site has become popular with automobile enthusiasts for its annual Motor Muster car shows, traditionally held on Father's Day weekend, where the most impressive classic and new cars are exhibited to thousands of visitors in recognition of the special place of the automobile in Detroit's history.

Belle Isle Park

This vast park, spread across the 982 acre (3.97 square kilometers) of the river island of Belle Isle on the Detroit River, is the largest island park in the United States, connected to mainland Detroit by the MacArthur Bridge.

One of Detroit's premier leisure and recreation destinations, the Park is home to a number of different attractions, including the Belle Isle Aquarium, which has been running since 1905 and is home to over 60 exhibits containing over 1,500 fish of 146 different species.

One of the Park's most iconic features is the James Scott Memorial Fountain, completed in 1925 at a cost of over $500,000 at the time and constructed in honor of the controversial investor and property magnate James Scott, who donated the money for its construction to the city of Detroit in his will.

Hitsville U.S.A.

The first headquarters of the world-famous Motown record company, this studio located at 2648 West Grand Boulevard is one of the most hallowed locations in American musical history.

Operating as Motown's main base between 1955 and 1972, when the label relocated its headquarters to Los Angeles, Hitsville was the record company's home during it most iconic period, releasing records by beloved and critically acclaimed artists such as Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and the Temptations, whose records were produced by the legendary Berry Gordy.

Since 1985, Hitsville U.S.A has been the site of the Motown Museum, dedicated to the legacy of the record label and its music.

Detroit Institute of Arts

Covering over 658,000 square feet (61,100 square meters) and containing over 100 separate galleries, the Detroit Institute of Arts in one the United States' premier artistic collections, with exhibits spanning world history from Ancient Egypt to contemporary Europe.

The museum is home to many of the finest works of European art to be housed outside of Europe, including masterpieces by Van Gogh, Cezanne, Degas, and Picasso, and the murals which decorate its walls that were painted by renowned Mexican artist Diego Rivera in 1932 are among the museum's most valuable treasures, depicting the struggle of the American worker.

Housed in an impressive Italian Renaissance-style building opened in 1927, the museum is the centerpiece of Detroit's Cultural Center Historic District.

An Authentic Detroit Dish

Detroit is arguably the best place in the world to eat one of the American Midwest's most iconic dishes, the Coney Island Hot Dog or Coney Dog.

Despite its name, which suggests that it originates from Coney Island in New York, this popular snack has been synonymous with Detroit since the early 20th century, when the city received new waves of immigrants from the Balkan region of Southeastern Europe (especially modern-day Greece and Macedonia), many of whom opened so-called "Coney Island restaurants" serving these hot dogs in a bun topped with meat sauce, yellow mustard, and onions.

Comprehension Exercises

Vocabulary Questions

  1. What does "tumultuous" mean?
    1. busy or hurried
    2. unstable or turbulent
    3. stodgy or sticky

  2. What does "laboratory" mean?
    1. playground or park
    2. school or training center
    3. workshop or testing center

  3. What does "controversial" mean?
    1. selected or chosen
    2. opposite or contrary
    3. debated, not agreed upon

  4. What does "acclaimed" mean?
    1. successful or celebrated
    2. voted or nominated
    3. rich or wealthy

  5. What does "contemporary" mean?
    1. of the current time
    2. from Roman times
    3. from Shakespearean times

Collocation Questions

  1. No city in Michigan has a ___________ population than Detroit.
    1. larger
    2. broader
    3. thicker

  2. The French were the first Europeans to ___________ the region surrounding the Detroit River.
    1. resolve
    2. relax
    3. settle

  3. Detroit was a major site of passage for slaves who were ___________ the USA to reach Canada during the first half of the 19th century.
    1. fleeing
    2. scattering
    3. bolting

  4. Yellow mustard is a key ___________ when preparing a Coney Island Hot Dog.
    1. component
    2. ingredient
    3. additive

  1. The war of 1812 left Detroit temporarily in the ___________ of the British.
    1. hands
    2. claws
    3. paws

  1. "Motown" is one of Detroit's most ___________ used nicknames.
    1. usually
    2. normally
    3. commonly

  1. Migrants from ___________ Europe arrived in Detroit in their tens of thousands during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
    1. across
    2. between
    3. spanning

  2. The bus on which Rosa Parks ___________ against racial discrimination in one of the Henry Ford Museum's most prominent exhibits.
    1. rebelled
    2. demonstrated
    3. protested

  3. Berry Gordy was the owner and chief ___________ of the Motown record label.
    1. producer
    2. fabricator
    3. manufacturer

  4. The Detroit Institute of Arts houses one of the finest ___________ of European Art in North America.
    1. assortments
    2. collections
    3. gatherings

Wh Questions

  1. What is a Coney Dog?
    1. an animal
    2. a type of food
    3. a nickname for someone from Detroit

  2. Why did Detroit become known as the "Arsenal of Democracy"?
    1. because its mines provided the iron that built the first warship of the US Navy
    2. because it produced the muskets which George Washington used to win the American War of Independence
    3. because its factories supplied weapons for the Allies during the Second World War

  3. Where is the James Scott Memorial Fountain?
    1. Belle Isle Park
    2. Detroit Institute of Arts
    3. Hitsville U.S.A.

  4. For how long has the Detroit area been inhabited?
    1. at least 1,000 years
    2. at least 10,000 years
    3. at least 11,000 years

  1. When did the American Civil War end?
    1. 1865
    2. 1905
    3. 1776

Evaluating Statements

  1. Based on the information in this lesson, which statement is true?
    1. Coney Island is one of Detroit's most popular beach resorts.
    2. B. Coney Island is not in Detroit, although Coney Island Hot Dogs are a popular Detroit dish.

  2. Based on the information in this lesson, which statement is false?
    1. The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation is located in the neighborhood of Dearborn.
    2. The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation is located in Detroit's Cultural Center Historic District.

True or False?

  1. Based on the information in this lesson, is the following statement true or false?

    "Detroit is the capital city of Michigan."
    1. True
    2. False

  2. Based on the information in this lesson, is the following statement true or false?

    "The Motor Muster is traditionally held every Father's Day."
    1. True
    2. False

Answer Key

1. B | 2. C | 3. C | 4. A | 5. A | 6. A | 7. C | 8. A | 9. B | 10. A | 11. C | 12. A | 13. C | 14. A | 15. B | 16. B | 17. C | 18. A | 19. C | 20. A | 21. B | 22. B | 23. B | 24. A

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