I Have A Relationship With My Potholder

Oh…So that’s how you use a potholder?

Potholders aren’t something we give much thought to – unless you need one and it’s nowhere to be found.

You grab a potholder, lift something hot off the stove or out of the oven, put the potholder back where you keep it, and forget about it until the next time you need it.

I, however…

Have a relationship with my potholder.

Which is odd, since I don’t cook.

I was born and raised in Michigan, and though I now live in San Diego, my potholder and I go way back.

My potholder, too, is from Michigan.

My potholder traveled from Michigan to California with me.

My potholder is a two-sided Michigan Mitten:

Michigan is the only state that models a potholder’s shape. 


Michigan:  Two peninsulas.  Upper peninsula, left hand; lower peninsula, right hand.

Oh, other states have potholders:

I say “Piffle!” to those.

Michigan has the perfect potholder profile.

If you live in Michigan and someone asks you where you’re from, if you’re from the Lower Peninsula you hold up your right hand and point to your city with your left hand:

It’s a very handy (get it?) visual aid.

Another way Michigan is unique:  It is the only state in the U.S. formed by two peninsulas.

As I was ruminating on potholders and peninsulas, I started wondering…

Why is the upper peninsula part of Michigan?

The upper peninsula shares a border with Wisconsin, not Michigan:

In fact, the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan don’t even touch each other at any single point.

They are connected, but that’s by the five-mile-long Mackinac Bridge, which spans across the Mackinac Straits of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron:

So if the peninsulas aren’t connected, but the upper peninsula is connected to Wisconsin, why is the Upper Peninsula (or UP as we natives say), part of Michigan?

Gosh – I grew up in Michigan and don’t know the answer to that.

I’m going on a quest to correct my ignorance.

Want to come along?

Let’s get started here:

It turns out that we have to go back to 1787, and to land that was west of the United States that had belonged to the British.  The land was ceded to the U.S. in 1783, and in 1787 Congress organized the land into what they then called the “Northwest Territory”:

Today we recognize it as all or large parts of six eventual states – Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and the northeastern part of Minnesota – but back then it was just a lot of land.

Then people in the southeastern part of the Northwest Territory got themselves organized, applied for statehood, and Ohio became a state in 1803.  The border between the state of Ohio and Michigan Territory was defined, and Ohio made sure that their new state would include Maumee Bay and Toledo.

Why did Maumee Bay and Toledo matter to Ohio?

Here are the Maumee River and Toledo:

The Maumee River runs from northeastern Indiana into northwestern Ohio, into Maumee Bay and Lake Erie just east of Toledo.

Importance:  An east/west water trade route.

Trade route = commerce.

Commerce = profits.

You bet Ohio wanted its border drawn to include Maumee Bay and Toledo.

I know – you’re wondering, “What does this have to do with your Michigan Mitt potholder?”

Hang in there.  We’re coming to the Toledo Strip.

All was well in Ohio, says this article:


“…until Michigan applied for statehood in 1833 and drew the border between itself and Ohio.”

Michigan drew its own border, and that border included Maumee Bay and Toledo.  The disputed tract of land, five to eight miles wide, 468 square miles, became known as the “Toledo Strip”:

“Not so fast!” said the people of Ohio (especially the ones who were benefiting greatly from the east/west water trade).  Ohio governor Robert Lucas pulled some favors in Congress to deny Michigan’s statehood, and that made Michigan governor Stevens Masons mad.

So the men did what men have done since the beginning of time:

They started a war.

Masons sent 1,000 Michigan militia to the Toledo Strip, and Lucas sent 600 Ohio militia.

As wars go, the Toledo “War” didn’t amount to much; it was mostly bloodless skirmishes, arrests, lawsuits, and saber rattling. 

Until things heated up in July 1835, according to this article:

And that heat reached all the way to the White House.  President Andrew Jackson got involved, and…

“Jackson brokered a deal and in June 1836, an agreement was ratified:  Ohio took control of the Toledo Strip, Michigan would be admitted into the union as the nation’s 26th state, and Michigan would take control of 9,000 square miles of land of the Upper Peninsula.”

Of course, that land wasn’t called the “Upper Peninsula” then.  It was just a mass of land that many in Michigan considered a useless wilderness, full of trees and Indigenous Americans.

It wasn’t even connected to Michigan!

Michigan got its statehood, and – many believed – a bad deal.

And that is how the Upper Peninsula became part of Michigan.

And this is how it turned out to be a great deal:

In 1841, Douglass Houghton, Michigan’s first state geologist, filed surveys and reports demonstrating an abundance of copper in the western part of the Upper Peninsula.  It was the start of the area’s copper boom.

Copper-seeking prospectors rushed in and since then – according to Michigan’s Copper Deposits and Mining:

“…over 12 billion pounds of native copper have been mined.”

And that’s not all – there’s this:

William Austin Burt and his surveying crew first came upon iron ore in 1844.  Within a few years, iron mines opened all across the central Upper Peninsula. 

Since its first iron ore shipment of two hundred pounds in 1846, the Upper Peninsula mines have produced well over one billion tons of iron ore.

And there’s also this:

According to this and other articles:

Trees – especially white pine – had always been plentiful in Michigan, and so had creeks and streams.  Combine the two – felled trees and waterways to transport them in – and you have a logging industry.  Waterways also transported the finished product from the mills to markets on the lower lakes.

By 1869 lumber from the Upper and Lower Peninsulas meant Michigan was producing more lumber than any other state, a distinction it continued to hold for 30 years.

In recent years, Michigan’s forest products industry – products that range from basketball court floors and utility poles to paper envelopes, furniture and much more – generated record amounts of revenue, growing from $14.7 billion five years ago to more $20 billion today, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR).

Copper, iron ore, lumber…

As this headline summed it up:

And as this wit summed it up:

And as I’ll sum it up:

I got this:

And I turned…


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