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Detroit is the seat of Wayne County, and the largest and most populated city in Michigan, although its population has declined each census year since 1950 when its peak population was 1,849,568.

Despite its long decline, Detroit remains a major industrial city, a shipping center, and the hub of the automobile industry in the United States. In the 1960s, Detroit played a significant role in the formation of rock and soul music.

Before the land was taken over by European-Americans, Detroit was occupied by the Huron, Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Iroquois peoples, and the site of a long line of Native American villages, their names including Yondotiga, Waweatunong, Tsychsardonia, and Teuchas Grondie, as its location at the mouth of the Detroit River, connecting Lake St. Clair with Lake Erie, made the area a significant site, as the river is one of four major straits that connect the Great Lakes system to the St. Lawrence Seaway.

The current city was founded as Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit by Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, a French explorer in New France, which stretched from the eastern part of Canada to Louisiana. The city's name is the French word for strait. Some of the early French settlers have streets named for them, including Beaubien, Chene, Dequindre, Dubois, Rivard, and Joseph Campau. The fort that was the start of the settlement was named for Jerome Phelypeaux, Count de Pontchartrain, who had approved the proposal for settlement of the area. In 1751.

The 1754-1763 French and Indian War, between Britain and France, gave Britain control over the city. From 1763 to 1796, Detroit was a British possession. Under British control, the name of the settlement was abbreviated to Detroit. Following the American Revolutionary War, the US government did not immediately occupy Detroit, as the US border with Canada was not settled until 1796 when the Jay Treaty established Detroit as a possession of the United States.

On January 17, 1802, Detroit was incorporated as a town. The city was platted by Augustus B. Woodward in 1806, and Detroit was incorporated as a city on October 24, 1815. A post office was established in Detroit on January 1, 1803, becoming the first US post office in Michigan, with Frederick Bates as postmaster. In 1805, a fire destroyed most of the Detroit settlement. Only one stone fort and a warehouse along the river survived, although none of the 600 Detroit residents lost their lives. Nevertheless, in that year, Detroit was named the capital of the Michigan Territory, and when Michigan became a state in 1837, Detroit was its capital until 1847, when it was moved to Lansing.

During the War of 1812, William Hull, the US commander at Detroit, surrendered to the British and their Shawnee allies without a fight in the Siege of Detroit, believing that his forces were greatly outnumbered. In January of 1813, US forces attempted unsuccessfully to retake the city in what was known as the Battle of Frenchtown, which resulted in the greatest number of fatalities suffered by the United States in any battle of the War of 1812. Detroit was taken by US forces later that year.

Before the US Civil War, Detroit's location along a common route to the Canadian border made the city an important stop in the Underground Railroad, which carried slaves to freedom in the North. Many remained in safe areas in Michigan, while others continued north into Canada. During the Civil War, the 24th Michigan Infantry Regiment, organized in Detroit, was part of the Iron Brigade, which suffered 82% casualties in the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. The regiment was selected as an escort in the funeral of President Abraham Lincoln.

In the late 1800s, wealthy industry and shipping magnates had magnificent mansions constructed east and west of the city's current downtown district, which was known as the Gilded Age.

During this period, Detroit expanded its borders greatly through the annexation of surrounding villages and townships. Between 1820 and 1950, the city's population grew from 1,422 to 1,849,568. In 1896, Henry Ford built his first automobile in a rented shop on Mack Avenue in Detroit. In 1903, Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company. This, along with other industry pioneers, such as William C. Durant (General Motors, Chevrolet), the Dodge Brothers (Dodge), James Ward Packard (Packard), and Walter Chrysler (Chrysler), helped to establish the city as the automotive capital of the world.

Interestingly, by the 1920s, Detroit had become a stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan, whose members opposed Catholic and Jewish immigrants, and practiced discrimination against black Americans.

After World War II, many Detroit manufacturers merged, while others eventually disappeared, setting the stage for Detroit's population decline. Of the US shrinking cities, Detroit has had the most dramatic decline, including a 25% loss in population between 2000 and 2010.

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