My son and I spent some of our Memorial Day weekend exploring a museum that chronicles the role Michigan played in manufacturing military equipment, vehicles and weaponry during the 20th Century. Switching its numerous automotive assembly plants over to building machine guns, jeeps, tanks, and war planes earned Michigan the moniker “arsenal of democracy” during World War II. Throughout the remainder of the century, the state continued to be an industrial center for supporting the nation’s military services. Today, the United State’s Army Tank & Armaments Command is based in the Detroit suburb of Warren providing a 21st Century connection between the military and Michigan that developed during the World War II era of the last century.
The Michigan Military Technical & Historical Society museum highlights “Michigan Made” military products and the facilities that manufactured them between 1900 and 2000. Learn about how the car plants around the city of Flint went from being known as “Buick City” to “Tank City,” Ford’s production of massive B-24 Liberator bombers on a mile long assembly line at its Willow Run facility outside Ypsilanti, and Hudson Motor Car Company built engines for naval landing craft out of its Detroit automotive plant. Located in the city of Eastpointe, a mile north of Detroit, the museum provided us with a close up look at items such as an iconic WWII Ford GPW Jeep used in land operations and a Hudson Invader 168 engine used in boats that transported troops onto the beaches for battles in Africa, Europe and the South Pacific along with numerous photographs and artifacts reflecting upon how Michigan became known as the arsenal of democracy.
There are also a number of standout displays showing what life was like on the battlefield and in the barracks for soldiers during World War II. One eye catching exhibit features a mortar, machine gun and other combat gear with signage that explains these items Michigan connection. Another impressive exhibit shows a soldier polishing his shoes on a bunk in front of an army footlocker opened to show the type of personal items men took with them when they went off to fight in that war.
In addition to Made in Michigan products relating to the military there is also a variety of other interesting memorabilia being exhibited as well. Eastpointe is the hometown of NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger. A graduate of the Naval Academy, he became a military physician before being accepted into NASA. Linenger flew a mission onboard the space shuttle Atlantis as well as did a stint as an American ambassador upon the Russian Mir space station. A flight suit worn by Linenger in outer space is on display as well as an example of a space shuttle heat tile that was used to protect the ship from burning up on re-entry to the Earth’s orbit.
The museum also has a nice collection of uniforms worn by soldiers from the different wars that Americans fought in throughout the 20th century. A doughboy outfit from World War 1, uniforms worn in Vietnam and Army fatigues from the Iraq War are a few examples of what there is to see in this gallery at the Michigan Military Technical & Historical Society museum. Did you know hundreds of captured German soldiers captured by Allied forces during World War II were sent to prison camps in Michigan? One of the prisoner of war uniforms they wore is even on display pointing out another connection the war had with the state.
During our visit, my son really was engaged in completing the challenges contained within a young visitor’s guide the museum hands out to kids. It contains a variety of activities such as a Scavenger Hunt and an I-Spy game that captivated my son’s attention. I was amazed at how enthusiastic he was about delving into all the informational plagues and examining items on exhibit to complete the tasks in this brochure. He learned a lot while having fun.
Another interesting aspect of the museum is its Civil Defense gallery. Check out a THUNDERBOLT warning siren that had previously been installed at a Detroit fire station to alert residents to an incoming nuclear attack by the Soviets. This interactive display allowed us to press a button to hear the emergency alert and attack warning sounds that would have been issued by Civil Defense sirens during the Cold War. We also watched an authentic black and white video tutorial on how to duck and cover if an atomic bomb was to explode nearby. Surrounding the sound box and television monitor are samples of the emergency supplies that would have been stocked in bomb shelters including drinking water, food rations, sanitation kits, and medical supplies. This is an interesting look at a time when the world thought nuclear war was inevitable and how people thought they’d be able to cope with the situation if it occurred.
This museum just doesn’t show off military guns and gear; but rather focuses on getting people to think about the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) aspects of how the items being showcased were created and used. Walking through this place highlights a time of both American military and industrial might. A visit to the Michigan Military Technical & Historical Society Museum provides a unique historical perspective of how people on the home front have equipped the soldiers on the battlefield during the conflicts the United States was involved in during the twentieth century. We had an entertaining and educational experience while exploring the place as we discovered some amazing things about Michigan people, places, and products involvement in the military.
The Michigan Military Technical & Historical Society Museum is open on Saturdays and Sundays. Schools, Boy & Girl Scout troops, youth groups, and community groups can also schedule weekday tours of this museum in Metro Detroit’s Macomb County with advance reservations. The museum is located at 16600 Stephens Road just off Gratiot Avenue between 9 and 10 Mile Roads. I highly recommend visiting the place if you get a chance. We had a great father – son Memorial Day weekend trip to this museum. For more information, visit mimths.org or call 586-872-2581.