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Connections and Coffee

Michigan Automotive Firsts: Five facts that prove the state is the nation’s pace car

We all know that Michigan put the nation on wheels, but there’s a lot more transportation trivia in the state than just being the place where they build cars. Here’s five fast facts about Michigan automotive firsts that were sourced directly from that most road-weary oracle of knowledge, the Michigan Department of Transportation 

Local Shout Out to Ransom
Detroit resident David B. Huss set the first automobile transcontinental time record in 1905 — driving from New York City to Portland, Oregon, in a 7-horsepower, Michigan-built, curved-dash Oldsmobile. As we are all well aware, Ransom E. Olds started the Olds Motor Vehicle Co. right here in Lansing. Huss’ trek took 44 days and reached toe-curling speeds of a whopping 15 mph. 

No, Yellow Doesn’t Mean Speed Up
Although red-and-green traffic lights already existed, the device didn’t give motorists traveling at high speeds enough time to stop when the light transitioned. William Potts, a Detroit police officer, came up with the design that included the yellow light. It was installed at the intersection of Woodward Avenue and Fort Street in Detroit in 1920, and it’s on display in the “Driving America” exhibit at The Henry Ford in Dearborn. 

Put It to the Floor Along 94
Michigan was the first state in the nation to complete a border-to-border interstate. In 1960, the 205 miles of Interstate 94, running from Detroit on the East Coast to New Buffalo on the West Coast, opened to the public. Another notable fact, I-94’s interchange with the Lodge Freeway in Detroit was the nation’s first full-speed, freeway-to-freeway interchange.  

That Name Again is Mr. Plow
The nation’s first practical highway snowplow was built in 1922 in the city of Munising in the Upper Peninsula — and those folks know snow! According to, it was designed and built by Edward C. Levy, public works superintendent, and was mounted on runners and consisted of two retractable wooden wings. 

Pull Over and Stretch Your Legs
The nation’s first roadside park opened in 1919 along U.S. 2 in the Upper Peninsula’s Iron County. (Oddly enough, the nation’s first roadside picnic tables didn’t come along until 1929 — but that was in Michigan, too, on U.S. 16 in Ionia.) It’s likely that the opening of the first roadside park was quickly followed by the first motorist stretching his legs who didn’t clean up after his dog.