The Detroit Historical Society

Since its founding in 1921, the Detroit Historical Society has been dedicated to ensuring that the history of our region is preserved so that current and future generations of metro Detroiters can better understand the people, places and events that helped shape our lives.

In 1928, our leaders founded the Detroit Historical Museum, and for the next 20 years, we operated the Museum and preserved our region’s rich history through the collection and conservation of artifacts. In 1945, we transferred ownership of the Museum and the collections to the City of Detroit and changed our focus to fundraising and marketing activities for the Detroit Historical Museum and, later, the Dossin Great Lakes Museum.

Throughout the next five decades, we raised funds, recruited volunteers and ensured that the Detroit Historical Museum, the Dossin Great Lakes Museum and Historic Fort Wayne (which opened as a City-owned and operated historical attraction in the 1970s) remained a vibrant presence in Detroit’s cultural landscape.

In 2006, our leaders reached a new agreement with the City of Detroit to once again become the day-to-day manager of the Detroit Historical Museum, the Dossin Great Lakes Museum and the more than 250,000 artifacts held in the collections. Management of the historic re-enactments, special events and outdoor activities at Historic Fort Wayne was assumed by the City of Detroit’s Recreation Department.

Since that time, our Board of Trustees and staff have reinforced their commitment to ensuring excellence in all of the organization’s activities. In September 2006, the Detroit Historical Museum celebrated its Grand Re-Opening after a Society-led 10-week makeover that saw the installation of six new exhibits and many needed facility improvements. In March 2007, the Society completed a similar makeover at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, which reopened to record attendance.

In 2009, we launched our Past>Forward Campaign, with the goal of raising $20.1 million over five years for new and expanded exhibits, technology upgrades, educational offerings and enhancements to the Detroit Historical Museum, Dossin Great Lakes Museum and the collection.

At a July, 2014 celebration at the Detroit Historical Museum, the Detroit Historical Society concluded the Campaign, announcing that it raised more than $21.2 million over five years, significantly exceeding the $20.1 million goal and leaving a legacy of accomplishment, including the following:

  • The dramatic re-invention of the Detroit Historical Museum in Midtown and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle, installing six brand new permanent exhibits and attractions including the Kid Rock Music Lab, Allesee Gallery of Culture (Detroit Historical Museum) and Built by the River (Dossin).
  • The opening of the Legends Plaza outdoor attraction in the Fall of 2012 in advance of the Grand Re-Opening of the Detroit Historical Museum.
  • The enhancement of our eight permanent signature exhibits both Museums, including the Streets of Old Detroit, America’s Motor City (Detroit Historical Museum) and the William Clay Ford Pilot House (Dossin).
  • The digitization of tens of thousands of artifacts from the Society’s collections making them accessible to students and researchers around the world.
  • Significantly increased attendance at both Museums by over 50 percent since the two Grand Re-Openings.
  • The adoption of a free admission policy for both Museums that has allowed them to reach a broader diversity of audiences than ever before.
  • The upgrading and rebranding of the Society’s website at and the increasing of unique users from 250 percent over the duration of the Campaign.
  • The creation of new educational programming and the publishing of two books.

Our mission is:

The Detroit Historical Society tells Detroit's stories and why they matter.

Our vision is:

To be an integral part of Detroit's present and future by providing meaningful experiences that preserve and share its past.

Our values are: 
  • Authentic: We demonstrate the highest level of integrity and scholarship in all of our words and actions, ensuring that our work is balanced and truthful.
  • Relevant: We provide informative, engaging and dynamic experiences that help community members see their place in Detroit's history.
  • Creative: We embrace fresh and innovative approaches to our work and mission, and encourage our board, staff and volunteers to think imaginatively.
  • Professional: We are dedicated stewards of assets held in public trust, and our board, staff and volunteers are committed to carrying out the mission with the highest standards of excellence. 
  • Inclusive: We provide informative, engaging and dynamic experiences that offer opportunities for broad and diverse participation.