25 Amazing Photos Showing Everyday Life in Detroit in the 1940s

Detroit is the largest and most populous city in the U.S. state of Michigan, the largest U.S. city on the United States–Canada border, and the county seat of Wayne County. The municipality of Detroit had a population of 639,111 at the 2020 census, making it the 27th-most populous city in the United States. The metropolitan area, known as Metro Detroit, is home to 4.3 million people, making it the second-largest in the Midwest after the Chicago metropolitan area, and 14th-largest in the United States. Regarded as a major cultural center, Detroit is known for its contributions to music and as a repository for art, architecture and design, along with its historical automotive background.

Detroit is a major port on the Detroit River, one of the four major straits that connect the Great Lakes system to the Saint Lawrence Seaway. The City of Detroit anchors the second-largest regional economy in the Midwest, behind Chicago and ahead of Minneapolis–Saint Paul, and the 14th-largest in the United States. Detroit is best known as the center of the U.S. automobile industry, and the “Big Three” auto manufacturers General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis North America are all headquartered in Metro Detroit. As of 2007, the Detroit metropolitan area is the number one exporting region among 310 defined metropolitan areas in the United States. The Detroit Metropolitan Airport is among the most important hubs in the United States. Detroit and its neighboring Canadian city Windsor are connected through a highway tunnel, railway tunnel, and the Ambassador Bridge, which is the second-busiest international crossing in North America, after San Diego–Tijuana.

In 1701, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac founded Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit, the future city of Detroit. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, it became an important industrial hub at the center of the Great Lakes region. The city’s population became the fourth-largest in the nation in 1920, after only New York City, Chicago and Philadelphia, with the expansion of the auto industry in the early 20th century. As Detroit’s industrialization took off, the Detroit River became the busiest commercial hub in the world. The strait carried over 65 million tons of shipping commerce through Detroit to locations all over the world each year; the freight throughput was more than three times that of New York and about four times that of London. By the 1940s, the city’s population remained the fourth-largest in the country. However, due to industrial restructuring, the loss of jobs in the auto industry, and rapid suburbanization, among other reasons, Detroit entered a state of urban decay and lost considerable population from the late 20th century to the present. Since reaching a peak of 1.85 million at the 1950 census, Detroit’s population has declined by more than 65 percent. In 2013, Detroit became the largest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy, which it successfully exited in December 2014, when the city government regained control of Detroit’s finances.

Detroit’s diverse culture has had both local and international influence, particularly in music, with the city giving rise to the genres of Motown and techno, and playing an important role in the development of jazz, hip-hop, rock, and punk. The rapid growth of Detroit in its boom years resulted in a globally unique stock of architectural monuments and historic places. Since the 2000s conservation efforts have managed to save many architectural pieces and achieved several large-scale revitalizations, including the restoration of several historic theatres and entertainment venues, high-rise renovations, new sports stadiums, and a riverfront revitalization project. More recently, the population of Downtown Detroit, Midtown Detroit, and various other neighborhoods have increased. An increasingly popular tourist destination, Detroit receives 19 million visitors per year. In 2015, Detroit was named a “City of Design” by UNESCO, the first U.S. city to receive that designation. (Wikipedia)

Kids at a ball game at Briggs Stadium, Detroit, August, 1942.
This strange watercraft, an experimental “torpedo boat,” performs test runs in the Detroit River, near Detroit, Michigan, on December 28, 1940.
Looking ahead to the possibility that gas masks may some day be a necessary part of their ensemble, these University of Detroit students were trying out masks in a practice drill on the campus on June 23, 1942.
The sign at the left, “My running days are over. My duty now is to lick the Japs,” explains what is happening to these onetime automobiles in Detroit, Michigan on January 23, 1942.
In Detroit’s Crowley-Milner department store, the head of the art department works with a new mannequin in July of 1941.
In this July 4, 1942 file photo, 28-ton tanks, called “General Grants” by U.S. forces in the Middle East who used them in the battle for Egypt, are turned out in mass production by the Chrysler Corporation’s tank arsenal in Detroit.
Female guards, placed on duty at the Naval Ordnance Plant, operated by the Hudson Motor Car Company in Detroit, Michigan, learn how to sight guns on August 7, 1942.
Detroit, Michigan. Shoppers at lunch at the Crowley-Milner department store in July of 1941.
Guarded by more than 1,500 state troops, city and state police, moving vans carried the household goods of black families into Sojourners Truth, a federal housing project located in a white section of Detroit, on April 29, 1942.
Detroit police disperse white picketers who objected to occupancy by blacks of Sojourner Truth Federal housing project, erected in a predominately white neighborhood, on April 29. 1942.
Stones flew despite a police riot squad’s efforts to maintain order in Detroit, on February 28, 1942 between prospective Black tenants of a million-dollar defense housing project and white picketers who halted their moving vans. Several were hurt in the picket line skirmishes.
One of the newly-built quarter-ton four-wheel amphibian jeeps, produced for U.S. fighting forces, leaves solid ground for a test-run in an ice-clogged stream in the Detroit area on March 23, 1943.
Gas mask production. Lacing head harnesses of gas masks after they have passed through all the stages of assembly and made ready for packaging, is the job of this young woman who works in the Eureka Vacuum factory which has been converted to war production.
A woman passenger climbs out of the rear window of a tram in Detroit, Michigan, on June 21, 1943, after a mob halted the car in an effort to remove the black passengers on board during race riots.
An African American man is dragged from a street car near the downtown section of Detroit on June 21, 1943, and continued to battle in the streets. Military rule in the city was established in an effort to halt the fighting.
Police attempt to break up an incident as race rioting flared in the downtown area of Detroit on June 21, 1943. Troops were called in at the request of Michigan Governor Harry F. Kelly when police were unable to stop the fighting.
Police use tear gas to disperse a crowd gathered on the main street of Detroit, Michigan, in an effort to halt race rioting on June 21, 1943.
Two youths help a black man to his feet after he was badly beaten in street fighting which marked race riots in Detroit, Michigan, on June 21, 1943.
Huge anti-aircraft guns, the U.S. Army’s new powerful Stratosphere guns, are lined up in the final assembly area of the Grand Rapids stamping division of Fisher Body in Detroit on June 1, 1944, prior to shipping.
U.S. soldiers from every state shipped off to war. Here, after taking part in the fighting, soldiers (two from Detroit) relax by playing cards in a palm grove behind the lines at Buna, New Guinea on January 13, 1943.
This group of soldiers who debarked from a transport drink from mugs of coffee and munch doughnuts on a troop train en route to their station in England, March 15, 1944.
People work in the NAACP branch office in Detroit, Michigan, in the 1940s.
Motorists line a street waiting to buy gasoline at 17 cents per gallon at this station in Detroit on September 24, 1945.
Jockey Freddie “The Fleet” Wirth, a 21-year-old from Louisville, Kentucky, demonstrates how he picked up some extra money in Detroit, when he bet fellow riders he could clear the hood of an automobile, October 29, 1949.
Men and women, formerly employed in defense work, crowd Detroit branch of War Manpower Commission to file claims for unemployment benefits and also register for new jobs on August 17, 1945.

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