Origins: Life Where the River Bends

Frontiers to Factories: Detroiters at Work, 1701-1901

Origins: Life Where the River Bends is a story of many Detroit beginnings. It invites guests to explore the lives and events that have shaped - and been shaped by - the area on the river now called Detroit. This region’s First People called it Waawiiyaataanong, or “where the river bends,” but it would earn many monikers over the years including “le détroit” and the “Motor City.”

Beginning with the area’s Native Peoples, this signature exhibition explores the many people who have lived here, and how and why they came. Detroit over time became home to French, British and American populations, before becoming a hub of immigration for folks from around the world. All of those people, and the Detroit River, worked to shape the city into an industrial powerhouse producing iron stoves, ships, rail cars and more. These elements and more helped shape the origins of the auto industry that was budding at the turn of the twentieth century. 

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Explore the city's foundational stories through fantastic interactive elements, including a narrated map of Great Lakes explorers’ routes and video stories featuring many characters from Detroit history. Also included are opportunities for guests to take deeper dives into topics with interactive tablets with features including stories of some of the families who have immigrated to Detroit, artifacts from Native populations and numerous primary documents.