Detroit is the hometown of the United States auto industry, the Detroit Tigers, Red Wings, Motown, Eminem and the White Stripes. It is also a city that made history on Thursday, July 18th, 2013 by becoming the largest municipality in the United States to ever file for bankruptcy.

How did we come to this?

Here’s a look back at the city’s history, starting in the 1950s—the beginning of the decline.


Detroit's population hits 1.85 million, making it America's fourth-largest city, with 296,000 manufacturing jobs.

The crumbling Packard plant, in October 2009. (Albert Duce/Creative Commons)
The crumbling Packard plant, in October 2009. Albert Duce/Creative Commons


The 3,500,000-square-foot Packard Motor Car Co. factory in Detroit, opened in 1903, is shuttered. It still stands today, a symbol of Detroit's long, slow decline.

Berry Gordy founds Motown Records. He names the record company's center of operations — a two-story house at 2648 West Grand Boulevard — "Hitsville USA." And he isn't exaggerating. With artists like the Supremes, the Temptations, Martha and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and the Jackson 5, Motown has 120 singles hit the Top 20 in the 1960s, and changes the direction of popular music.


Hitsville USA
Berry Gordy Jr. poses with the Supremes’ newest Motown album outside Hitsville USA headquarters on West Grand Boulevard in June, 1964. Detroit Free Press/Tony Spina
1967 Detroit 12th Street Riot
Still adhering to the no-shoot order, Detroit police watch in disgust as rioters’ loot and burn their way unabated down 12th Street. The Great Rebellion, Kenneth Stahl

Jul 23-28, 1967

The Twelfth Street riot, one of the biggest in U.S. history, pits inner-city black residents against police, then National Guard troops sent in by Gov. George Romney and Army soldiers deployed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. In five days of rioting, 43 people are killed, 467 injured, and more than 7,200 arrested. Some 2,000 buildings are destroyed.


The gasoline crises help give smaller, more fuel-efficient foreign-made cars a toehold in the U.S., signaling a long period of crisis for Detroit's Big Three automakers.

A vehicle is crushed at U.S. Auto Supply in Detroit on August 3, 2009. (REUTERS/Rebecca Cook)
A vehicle is crushed at U.S. Auto Supply in Detroit on August 3, 2009. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Coleman Young
Coleman Young is shown in front of the Spirit of Detroit on June 26, 1987, when he was mayor of Detroit. The Detroit News / File / AP


Detroit elects Coleman Young as its first black mayor. He serves until 1993.

Detroit Tigers win the World Series.


Detroit Tigers 1984 World Series
Dick McAuliffe, left, Jim Northrup, center, and Mickey Stanley, with the World Championship trophy Oct. 10, 1968 after defeating the St. Louis Cardinals. Associated Press
1990 Pistons Wining Against the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan
AUBURN HILLS, MI - 1990: Joe Dumars #4 of the Detroit Pistons handles the ball against Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls circa 1990 at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

1989 & 1990

Detroit Pistons win NBA championship.

Jul 1992

Moody's cuts Detroit's debt rating to junk status.

Moody's Debt Rating
Moody's Investor Service
Dennis Archer
Dennis Archer, shown here shortly before he became the first black president of the American Bar Association in 2003. Archer went to his first ABA meeting in 1972. He was one of just two black lawyers there. AP Photo/George Nikitin


Under Mayor Dennis Archer, the city's credit rating rises to a solid investment grade, on the back of a bout of urban renewal.

Stroh's Beer Factory
A rendering of the iconic Stroh Brewery in Detroit. Forbes Media LLC./Frances Stroh

Stroh's Brewery Company is sold to Pabst and Miller, with its brands either divided between the two breweries or discontinued.



Detroit's 300th Anniversary patch
MEARS Research & Auction Center

Detroit celebrates its 300th anniversary; DaimlerChrysler announces job cuts.

Detroit Red Wings win the Stanley Cup in 2002
Detroit Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman, accompanied by his daughter Isabella, holds the Stanley Cup after beating the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-1, to win the final series four games to one, in Detroit. The arena will be the home of the Red Wings one more time on Sunday, April 9, 2017, when they host the New Jersey Devils. Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP, File


Jennifer Granholm is elected as Michigan's first female governor; Detroit Red Wings win Stanley Cup.

Under Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, the city's credit ratings start to slide back into junk territory.

2002 - 2008

Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick
Ex -Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks, civil rights advocate and educator


General Motors announces massive job cuts; civil rights icon, Rosa Parks, dies at age of 92.

Sep 2008

Kilpatrick pleads guilty to obstruction of justice charges and leaves office.

Mayor Kilpatrick at this hearing
Getty Images
President Bush

Dec 2008

President Bush gives a provisional $17.4 billion bailout to GM and Chrysler.

General Motors (GM) announce cut of 21,000 US jobs, phasing out Pontiac brand; Chrysler and GM declare bankruptcy, and the Obama administration provides financing and guides the automakers through expedited bankruptcy proceedings.

GM Headquarters
GM headquarters. CNN Money

May-Jul 2009

Detroit Population Census until 2011

Mar 2011

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that Detroit's population has fallen to 713,777, a 25 percent plummet from 2000 and the lowest level in 100 years. Detroit's finances are premised on a minimum tax base of 750,000 people. A new law, Public Act 4, that allows the state to intervene in financially troubled local governments takes effect.

Dec 21, 2011

Michigan Treasurer Andy Dillon says that the state will conduct a formal review of Detroit's finances.

Abandoned Homes
Friedman Real Estate
General Motors
Renaissance Center - statue. GM Authority


General Motors reports record profits for 2011.

Nov 2012

Voter repeal Public Act 4. The next month, Gov. Rick Snyder signs a replacement bill, Public Act 436, that lets struggling local governments choose between mediation, a deal with the state, a state-appointed emergency financial manager, or Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

Voter repeal Public Act 4
AP Photo | Detroit Free Press
GovSnyder / YouTube

Feb 19, 2013

A state review board appointed by Snyder decides that Detroit is in "operational dysfunction," unable or unwilling to restructure its finances, and needs intervention from the state.

Kevin Orr
Atlanta Black Star

Mar 25, 2013

Kevyn Orr, a restructuring specialist appointed by Snyder as Detroit emergency manager, takes office, at an annual salary of $275,000.

May 13, 2013

Orr, in his first public report on Detroit's finances, calls the city "clearly insolvent."

Jun 14, 2013

Orr says Detroit will stop making payments on some of its $18.5 billion in debt, putting it in technical default. Orr also lays out a plan to restructure Detroit's finances to avoid bankruptcy, including cuts to the pensions and health benefits of retired city workers and a steep haircut on municipal bonds.

Kevin Orr and reporters
Getty Images

Jul 18, 2013

Orr files a Chapter 9 bankruptcy petition on behalf of Detroit, marking the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in history and sending the Motor City into unknown territory.