Lansing, Michigan

The History of Lansing, Michigan

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The capital of the U.S. state of Michigan is Lansing. Although parts of the city stretch west into Eaton County and north into Clinton County, it is all in Ingham County. The 2010 Census put the population of the city at 114,297, making it Michigan’s fifth largest city. The population of its Metropolitan Statistical Area was 464,036, while 534,684 was the even greater population of the Combined Statistical Area that encompasses Shiawassee County. In 1847, ten years after Michigan became a state, it was called the new state capital of Michigan.

Colloquially referred to as ‘Mid-Michigan,’ the metropolitan area of Lansing is an important hub for educational, cultural, governmental, economic, and industrial functions. Michigan State University, a public research university with an enrollment of over 50,000, is located in nearby East Lansing. Two medical schools, one veterinary school, two nursing schools and two law schools are located in the city. It is home to the Michigan State Capitol, the State Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the Michigan Library and Historical Center, the Federal Court of Appeal, and the headquarters of four national insurance firms.

On April 24, 1790, while canoeing the Grand River, the first known person of European descent to pass through the region that is now Lansing was British fur trader Hugh Heward and his French-Canadian party. In February 1827, in what was then dense forest, the land that was to become Lansing was surveyed as’ Township 4 North Range 2 West.’ It was the last township to be surveyed by the county, and until October 1830, the land was not offered for sale. For decades to come, there will be no roads to this place.

Until the winter of 1847, when the state constitution required the capital to be relocated from Detroit to a more central and safer position in the interior of the state, the settlement of less than 20 individuals would remain dormant; many were worried about Detroit’s proximity to British-controlled Canada, which had taken Detroit in the War of 1812. In 1813, the United States recaptured the area, but these events culminated in the desperate need for the government center to move from hostile British territory. There was also concern about the heavy impact of Detroit on Michigan politics, being the largest city in the state as well as the capital city.

Many cities, including Ann Arbor, Marshall, and Jackson, lobbied hard to gain this distinction during the multi-day session to decide a new site for the state capital. The Michigan House of Representatives secretly selected the Township of Lansing out of frustration, unable to find a compromise publicly because of endless political wrangling. When it was declared, many present laughed openly that such an insignificant settlement was now the capital of Michigan. Governor William L. Greenly signed the Act of the Legislature into law two months later, declaring Lansing Township the state capital.

Much of what is known today as Lansing is the result of the town being an manufacturing powerhouse that started in August 1897 with the establishment of Its Motor Vehicle Company. Between its establishment and 1905, when founder Ransom E. Olds began his new REO Motor Car Company, which would stay for another 70 years in Lansing, the company went through several changes, including a buyout. By 1903, Olds was replaced by the less popular Clarkmobile. Over the next few decades, the city would become, among other industries, a major American industrial center for the manufacture of automobiles and parts. The town has also continued to develop in the region. The city had expanded to 15 square miles by 1956, and expanded in size to its current size of approximately 33 square miles over the next decade.