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Michigan is located in the East North Central
United States. It is unique among the states because it consists of
two peninsulas completely separated by water and bordering on four
of the five Great Lakes. Between Lakes Michigan and Huron lie the
Straits of Mackinac, which separate Michigan’s two peninsulas. The
Lower Peninsula is bounded on the east by Lakes Huron, Saint Clair,
and Erie and by the Detroit and Saint Clair rivers, all of which
separate the state from the Canadian province of Ontario. This
peninsula is bounded on the south by Ohio and Indiana, on the west
by Lake Michigan, and on the north by Lakes Michigan and Huron and
by the Straits of Mackinac. The Upper Peninsula is bordered on the
east by the Saint Marys River, on the south by the Straits of
Mackinac and Lakes Huron and Michigan, on the west by Wisconsin, and
on the north by Lake Superior. Lansing is the capital of Michigan.
Detroit is the largest city.
When Michigan was admitted to the Union on
January 26, 1837, as the 26th state, it was primarily a fur-trading
territory. Its rich agricultural resources were not developed until
later in the century. Its industrial prominence dates from the
beginnings of automobile manufacturing in the early 20th century.
The way of life in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula,
with its vast industrial development, has come to symbolize the
20th-century United States. The Upper Peninsula is a less populated
region of great natural beauty that is known as a recreation and
wilderness area. It is also noted for its mineral wealth.
The name of the state is taken from that of Lake
Michigan. The source of the lake name is disputed. Traditionally it
is said to have been derived from the Algonquian term michigama
meaning "big water" or "great lake." Others say
the word comes from the Chippewa term majigan, meaning
"clearing," which was given to an open area on the shores
of the lake in the 17th century. Michigan is called the Wolverine
State, because of the importance of wolverine pelts to early trading
posts in the region.
With extensive portions of the Great Lakes under
its jurisdiction, Michigan is the 11th largest of the U.S. states,
with an area of 96,705 square miles. The state includes 38,192
square miles of the Great Lakes waters and 1,704 square miles of
inland waters. The Lower Peninsula encompasses a little more than
two-thirds of the state’s land area. The Lower Peninsula is
sometimes called the Michigan Mitten, because its shape resembles a
mittened hand, with the peninsula extending into Lake Huron known as
the Thumb. Maximum distances in the Lower Peninsula are about 285
miles from north to south and about 195 miles from east to west;
maximum distances in the Upper Peninsula are about 320 miles from
east to west and about 125 miles from north to south. The shapes and
separation of the two peninsulas make distances great in Michigan.
The distance from Detroit to the westernmost portion of the Upper
Peninsula is the same as the distance from Detroit to New York City.
Until 1957, when a bridge 5 miles long was opened over the Straits
of Mackinac, the two peninsulas were connected only by ferry
The interior location of Michigan in the northern
part of North America results in a continental climate,
characterized by four definite seasons with moist, mild to hot
summers and snowy, cold winters. Winds off of Lakes Michigan and
Superior in winter create heavy snow accumulations in nearby areas.
The tempering effects of Lake Michigan account for the presence of
the state’s famous fruit-growing belt along the lake’s shore.
Since the water is colder than the land in spring, the westerly
winds passing over the lake tend to keep temperatures low enough on
land to retard the opening of young buds until the danger of frost
is over. In fall the water is warmer than the land and therefore the
growing season is longer than in the interior of the state. Overall,
the growing season is longer near the lakeshore.
Detroit, in the south, has an average January
temperature of 25° and a July average of 73°. The January mean in
Sault Sainte Marie, in the north, is 14°, and the July average is
64°. The Lower Peninsula has cold winters and hot summers; the
Upper Peninsula has severe winters and mild summers. January
averages for the state as a whole range between about 10° and 27°
, and the range in July falls between about 60° and 74°.
Precipitation is fairly uniform over the state.
It generally ranges from about 26 inches yearly in the interior of
the Lower Peninsula to about 36 inches in the extreme southern part
of the state. It is also fairly evenly distributed throughout the
year. Snowfall is heaviest in the northern portion of the Upper
Peninsula, the higher elevations of the northern Lower Peninsula,
and areas along Lakes Michigan and Superior. The southeastern region
of the Lower Peninsula receives relatively little snowfall.