Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Detroit Zoological Society

The first Detroit Zoo, which was established in 1883, was housed on Michigan Avenue, across the street from what would become Tiger Stadium. Leading Detroiter Luther Beecher was instrumental in purchasing the animals from a circus that went broke. The Detroit Zoological Garden and its wildlife had a short stay on Michigan Avenue. The zoo was closed after one year due to lack of funding and the building was turned into a horse market.

A second attempt to establish a zoo was made in 1911, when several prominent Detroiters organized the Detroit Zoological Society and began planning for a world class zoo. After several false starts, the Zoological Society eventually bought property just north of 10 Mile Road along Woodward Avenue.

Renowned designer Heinrich Hagenbeck of Hamburg, Germany accepted the challenge of creating Detroit’s Zoo, creating a “cageless environment” for the animals. Using moat designs, he placed the animals in what looked like their natural habitats.

The zoo opened at its new site on August 1, 1928 to record crowds. Rides on Paulina the elephant were available for one nickel, but the most popular exhibit that first year was a new set of lion cubs.  In 1939, the Zoo’s most famous icons was installed, with the opening of the Rackham Memorial Fountain, sculpted by Corrado Parducci.

Today the Detroit Zoo features a world renowned national Amphibian Center and the largest polar bear exhibit in the world – the Arctic Ring of Life. It also made headlines in 2005 as the first high-profile zoo in the United States to retire its elephants, sending beloved pachyderms Wanda and Winky to an animal sanctuary in California.

In Spring 2006, the City of Detroit signed a long-term operating agreement with the non-profit Detroit Zoological Society. The agreement ceded day-to-day management control of operations to the Society, while the city retained ownership of the assets.  In August 2008, voters in three metropolitan Detroit counties approved a millage to help fund the Zoo’s operations.



Detroit Aquarium program, published by the Detroit Zoological Society

Detroit Zoological Society membership certificate

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