WRITER | SARAH SPOHN
Michigan is known for many things: Superman ice cream, Vernors, Yoopers, the pasty, euchre games, and even Hell, Michigan. It’s also home to many people who have influenced our state, country, and even the world. Here’s a (very) short list of some made-in-Michigan folks who changed lives with their creativity, passion, and drive.
East Michigan Region:
Henry Ford is a familiar name, especially among car enthusiasts and industrial engineers. Though Ford might be an obvious choice when it comes to noteworthy Michigan natives, one cannot downplay his effect on the worldwide automotive industry and modern industry in general. Born in Greenfield Township in 1863, Ford revolutionized the way cars were built, implementing the first modern assembly line in 1913. This milestone in manufacturing made it affordable for many Americans to own their first-ever car and shifted the entire 20th-century landscape.
William Boeing was born in Detroit in 1881. You might recognize the last name and think aviation, and you certainly wouldn’t be wrong. The world of flight might have been totally different had it not been for William Boeing’s vision. He founded The Boeing Company in 1916 with its first plane, the Boeing Model 1. Boeing then developed the Model C training seaplane for the Navy during WWI and, later, commercial airplanes.
Berry Gordy drastically altered the soundscape of young America with his company, Motown Records. The Detroit record executive, producer, and songwriter founded and operated what was once the nation’s largest black-owned business. Gordy was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, and in 2016, he received the National Medal of Arts award from President Obama. The Jackson 5, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, The Four Tops, The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, and more became household names thanks to Gordy’s visionary Hitsville USA sound success incubator.
West Michigan Region:
John C. Sheehan changed the face of modern medicine forever with his work on penicillin. A Battle Creek native, the organic chemist became the first to synthesize this important drug successfully. His research at MIT made it possible for scientists to combat bacterial resistance against previous types of the drug. Eventually, he was responsible for over 30 patents, one of which was for ampicillin.
The name Larry Page may not be familiar to you, but chances are, you use his invention frequently, perhaps even every hour. In fact, if you were to Google his name, you’d have him to thank for the search results. Co-founder of the popular search engine Google, this computer scientist and internet entrepreneur was born in East Lansing. He is estimated to be worth $51 billion, which makes him #10 on the list of 2019 Billionaires. Today he is the CEO of Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company.
Northern Michigan Region:
Reports differ on exactly where Harriet Quimby was born; some say the Lake Michigan shoreline town of Arcadia, and others refer to Coldwater. Her lack of a birth certificate creates confusion, but one thing that is clear is the important place Quimby holds in women’s history. In 1912, she flew across the English Channel, the first woman to ever make the journey. Though she lived to just 37, Quimby’s legacy as the first woman to receive a pilot’s license in the US remains a celebrated feat.
Michigan is known for its Great Lakes, but clearly, that’s not the only thing our Mitten State has birthed. Whether it’s the creation of the assembly line, commercial Boeing airplanes, the powerful search engine Google, or medical milestones, it is evident that Michigan is home to some pretty great people, too.