Myth Of The 20th Century – Episode 12: Detroit, The Shadow Of Decline

Welcome to the Myth of the 20th Century. The podcast airs on Fridays.

— Brought to you by —

Adam Smith, Alex Nicholson, and Nick Mason


Detroit – once America’s shining example of a city built on the principles of a prosperous middle class, considered the Paris of the Midwest and submitted as America’s choice in 1963 for the upcoming summer Olympics – today is America’s capital for unemployment, dropouts, and foreclosures – ranked #1 Most Miserable City by Forbes in 2013. In 1967, Detroit experienced its worst race riot in history, with the National Guard deploying tanks to stop the violence that had resulted in 43 deaths and over 2,000 buildings being burned – ultimately sparking Detroit’s white exodus to the suburbs. While many of Detroit’s underlying economic issues began surfacing in the 1950s and are inextricably linked to the automotive industry, the transition from being an 83% white to now an 83% black city has thrown a spotlight onto issues of race, crime, and poverty like no other American city.

(Special guest Jayoh de la Rey @ObjectToaster)


1910- Henry Ford builds the first Model T factory in Highland Park
1920s- Detroit attracts hundreds of thousands from the rural south to work in new automotive factories
1930s- The Great Depression hits Detroit particularly hard, with over 50% unemployment
1939-45- US participation in WWII creates the “Arsenal of Democracy”, creating huge wartime contracts, reviving industry in Detroit
1950s- post war prosperity leads to an unprecedented baby boom and demand for consumer goods, Detroit’s population peaks at 1.9 million
-1956- Interstate Highway System commissioned by President Eisenhower, increasing demand further for cars
1958- Packard Motor Company declares bankruptcy
1967- 43 die, 7,000 arrested, 2,000 buildings burn in Detroit’s worst race riot; National Guard troops brought in
1969- another round of race riots prompts mass white flight from Detroit and exodus to the suburbs
1972- Michigan Republican primary delivered to Governor George Wallace, segregationist from Alabama
1973-1979- Arab oil embargoes send oil prices skyrocketing, hurting demand for large American vehicles and helping more fuel-efficient foreign imports from Japan and Europe
1974- Coleman Young elected first African-American mayor of Detroit
1980s- crack epidemic sweeps Detroit
1990s- SUV boom keeps Detroit automakers afloat
1999- Detroit legalizes casino gaming
2007- Toyota surpasses General Motors as the world’s largest auto maker for the first time
2008- gasoline prices rise above $4 per gallon for the first time in the United States, crippling Detroit automakers due to their lack of competitive small cars
2008- former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick sentenced to 120 days in jail for felony assault
2009- after receiving billions in US government bailout money, GM declares bankruptcy and Chrysler merges with Italian automaker F.I.A.T.
2013- Detroit declares bankruptcy
2013- Forbes ranks Detroit #1 Most Miserable City, with a population of under 700,000
2013- a newly hired autoworker will earn $14/hour; adjusted for inflation, this is 3 cents less than what Henry Ford was paying in 1914
2014- Mike Duggan, Detroit’s first white mayor in an 83% black city since 1974, assumes office


– Detroit: City on the Move (1965) –
– Auto bailout, round 2: Big 3 – GM, Ford, Chrysler – keep begging for $34B government bailout, Sisk (2008) –
– The 15 Top-Producing American Car Plants, Holmes (2012) –
Detroit – An American Autotopsy, Leduff (2013)
– During the ‘Lost Decade,’ Michigan Shed More Jobs Than U.S. as a Whole, Gantert (2014) –
– Detroit – Real Time Ride Along (2015) –
– Ted Nugent the morning after the election (2016) –
– Devil’s Night, Wikipedia –’s_Night

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  1. The Last American April 1, 2017 at 8:06 pm

    Honestly, we should wall off Detroit, declare an open season on thugs, and sell guided safari-style hunts amid the Chernobyl-esque ruin.

  2. as someone with 30 years in Detroit and 20 in the auto business , I enjoyed your take on this . drop me an e-mail

  3. Chiraqi Insurgent April 4, 2017 at 7:19 pm

    This was a great one. I’ve been saying this for years: Chicago is the next Detroit.

  4. Hillbillyhoodrat April 6, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    The current police chief in Detroit, James Craig, actually told residents to arm themselves and defend themselves. I live outside the city, but did live there in the 80’s and 90’s. I avoid the city like the plague and encourage family and friends to do the same, I don’t care how many hipsters live there. We had about 100, 120 guys in our neighborhood and maybe 2 or 3 might go to work in the morning.

  5. PV van der Byl April 6, 2017 at 3:00 pm

    It was the Michigan Democratic primary, not the Republican primary, that George Wallace won in 1972. He never ran as a Republican anywhere.

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