Sloganeering Michigan

Some mottos have stuck over the years, while others have fallen by the wayside.
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South Haven - Vintage SloganSlogans branding a town have been around for years. They were used to promote its advantages in advertisements, publicity brochures and on souvenirs. Local chambers of commerce, tourist associations, as well as hotels and resorts all branded their towns, to lure tourism, business and industry.

Many towns have multiple mottos, which were used at different times and for various reasons. Some have fallen by the wayside, like Grand Rapids’ claim to be the Gateway to the Playground of a Nation, while new ones have cropped up, such as Beer City, USA. There are hundreds of slogans promoting many of Michigan’s 1,400 towns and villages. We’ll look at just a few.

Some slogans are historical. Detroit was called the Arsenal of Democracy for its war production efforts during World War II. The automobile factories converted their assembly lines to build tanks, jeeps, B-24 bombers, aircraft engines, anti-aircraft guns and bullets. Saugatuck was The Brightest Spot on the Great Lakes when the Big Pavilion opened in 1909, with 5,000 exterior lights that could be seen from Lake Michigan’s waters.

Port Huron - Vintage SloganIdlewild became known as the Black Eden of Michigan for its hospitality to African-Americans in the days before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Since 1912, the resort community in Lake County had welcomed African-Americans from Chicago, Detroit and other Midwestern cities, when most resorts catered only to white clientele.

Jackson claimed its fame as the Birthplace of the Republican Party for the party’s first meeting held there in 1854. Mount Clemens was known as the Bath City of America for its mineral bathhouses in the late 1890s. Niles became known as the City of Four Flags since its fort was held by the nations of France, Britain, Spain and the United States at various times in the 17th and 18th centuries. Frankfort was the Soaring Capital of Michigan in the 1930s and 1940s when glider meets were held on the dunes near Frankfort.

Some cities have simple monikers. Detroit is known as Motor City, not to be confused with Flint’s claim as Vehicle City. Both cities were early automobile manufacturing hubs. In 1896, Grand Rapids identified itself as Furniture City on the city’s official flag. Battle Creek is still known as Cereal City, although tours are no longer offered at its factories.

Some slogans are historical. Detroit was called the Arsenal of Democracy for its war production efforts during World War II.

Manistique - Vintage SloganThere is a range of capital cities, too. Starting, of course, with Lansing, the Capital City. Colon is the Magic Capital of the World and home of Abbott Magic Company, founded by a friend of Harry Blackstone. Colon features a Magic Walk of Fame, like Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, and holds an annual Magic Get Together. Trufant is the Stump Fence Capital of the U.S., and Mount Pleasant is the Oil Capital of Michigan.

Michigan’s rich agriculture led to several food-related capitals, including Cherry Capital (Traverse City) for the cherry orchards in the region. Pinconning has a rightful claim as the Cheese Capital for its production of Pinconning cheese. Some capital cities gained their moniker because of local festivals. Kalkaska is the Trout Capital and hosts an annual Trout Festival. Cedar Springs, the Red Flannel Capital, hosts an annual festival honoring that staple item of clothing for surviving Michigan’s winters.

Petoskey - Vintage SloganAnd just where does Michigan’s north begin? Is it Where the North Begins and Pure Waters Flow in White Cloud or Where the North Begins and Fine Fruit Grows in Shelby? Or is Clare correct that Up North Begins Here?

Some communities resorted to lyrical slogans to entice the visitor: Where the Long Trail Winds through Whispering Pines (Marquette) and Where Nature Smiles for Seven Miles (Spring Lake). Don’t you want to go and explore The Land of Hiawatha and the Blazed Trail (Manistique)?

These various town slogans — some clever, some creative — showcase a town’s efforts to claim its special place in Michigan. After all, who doesn’t want to visit Nature’s Own Wonderland in Iron River? Or consider visiting Lapeer, Where Your Weekend Has an Extra Day Here. Just be careful when you drive through Speed Trap City (Romulus).

Photography courtesy Vintage Views


BLUE Vintage Views columnists M. Christine Byron and Thomas R. Wilson reside in Grand Rapids. They are authors of the book “Vintage Views Along Scenic M-22 including Sleeping Bear Dunes.”

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