Upper Peninsula | Photo Via Google Earth
· · ·

Will the State of Superior Become the 51st?

Spread across more than 36,000 square miles, the Upper Peninsula is a beloved part of Michigan and a year-round wonderland. As a land of pasties, Yoopers, waterfalls, and scenic towns along the Lake Superior shoreline, the Upper Peninsula has forged its own unique culture and identity that is cherished by the people who live here.

That culture and identity have, over time, stirred ideas and conversation of creating a separate State of Superior, establishing the Upper Peninsula as the 51st US State. While nothing has come to fruition, efforts to create a State of Superior are a unique part of Michigan’s history.

Editor’s Note: Awesome Mitten is not advocating for or against the succession of the Upper Peninsula from Michigan. This is just a quick glimpse at the history behind the discussion.

Porcupine Mountains Cropped
Lake Of The Clouds | photo via _sovereign_photography_

What Is the State of Superior?

The basic idea of the State of the Superior (sometimes known as the Superior State) has involved the creation of a 51st state with the Upper Peninsula as the centerpiece. Different proposals have also included parts of the Northern Lower Peninsula, northern Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

In recent years, the idea doesn’t appear to have much traction. However, the idea of a State of Superior in some form was first proposed in the early 1800s and has continued well into the 20th Century.

How Michigan Acquired the Upper Peninsula

Today, Michiganders can’t imagine their beloved state without two peninsulas. But once upon a time, this natural wonderland was seen as an inhabitable wilderness and consolation prize in a bitter land battle.

The Michigan Territory

The area was first inhabited by Native American tribes. It was later explored by French colonists and occupied by British forces before it became part of the United States.

The Michigan Territory, established in 1805, included all of the Lower Peninsula and the eastern UP. The territory was later expanded to include all of the UP, part of Minnesota, and what later became Wisconsin.

The Toledo War

When Michigan applied for statehood, the proposal included the original territory boundaries. On the path to statehood, however, Michigan officials had their eye on another piece of land.

The Toledo War, which lasted from 1835-1836, saw Michigan and Ohio at odds over a small piece of land known as the Toledo Strip. The land gave access to rich farmland and inland shipping opportunities. Each state passed laws attempting to claim it and ultimately a compromise was offered — Michigan gained the Upper Peninsula, and Ohio gained the Toledo Strip.

At the time, Michigan was considered the loser in the deal because the UP was seen as nothing more than a vast wilderness. Opinions changed when mineral deposits were discovered, and the opening of the Soo Locks helped improve Great Lakes shipping operations.

Related: Happy Birthday, Michigan: The Tale of Cabinet Counties and the Upper Peninsula’s Unexpected Treasure

Kitch-Iti-Kipi-Manistique
Kitch-iti-kipi | photo via theglassway

Why Would the UP Separate From Michigan?

You may wonder why the Upper Peninsula would want to separate from Michigan. After all, the Great Lakes State is the only one with two peninsulas.

In the years after the Toledo War, Michigan’s two peninsulas developed distinctly different economies. The Lower Peninsula became a center of manufacturing and agriculture. The Upper Peninsula became rooted in forestry and mining. Over time, residents of the Upper Peninsula developed a distinct cultural identity, becoming affectionately known as Yoopers.

Before the construction of the Mackinac Bridge, travel between the two peninsulas was difficult, and Yoopers felt either ignored or alienated by the state government in Lansing, especially with the decline of the UP mining industry.

Secession From Michigan Isn’t Easy

While the idea of a State of Superior may sound like a good idea to some, the reality of it happening would require some massive maneuvering.

For starters, secession from Michigan would require approval from the state legislature, and over time, it has already received a mixed reaction at best from the Lower Peninsula. Also, the UP receives a substantial amount of state funding, and becoming a state would require approval from US Congress.

On top of that, there have been concerns about the viability of a State of Superior. If the state included just the UP, it would be the smallest of 51 states and rank near the bottom in total land area and population.

Mackinac Bridge-Mackinaw City
Mackinac Bridge

The Mighty Mac Changes Everything

The construction of the Mackinac Bridge in 1957 changed the landscape of Michigan and connected the two peninsulas for the first time.

With the 5-mile Mighty Mac spanning the Straits of Mackinac, Lower Peninsula residents could easily travel to the UP, helping to grow tourism, social connections, and economic growth for a place once thought of as uninhabitable.

A State of Superior Is Proposed

Believe it or not, ideas to establish an Upper Peninsula state began shortly after the formation of the United States.

During the 19th Century, Thomas Jefferson — author of the Declaration of Independence and third President of the United States — proposed forming 10 new states from the Northwest Territory. One of those proposed states was Sylvania, which would have included the UP, parts of Northern Wisconsin, and much of Minnesota.

Growing Sentiment But Nothing Concrete

When Michigan became a state in 1837, the Upper Peninsula was a part of the state, but efforts to create a State of Superior persisted. By the 1850s, there was growing sentiment from UP residents for the UP to become its own state.

Late in the decade, a convention was held in Ontonagon to discuss creating a new state that would include the UP, northern Wisconsin, and Northeast Minnesota. At the time, Ontonagon was the largest city in the UP.

After the Civil War, a territorial convention was held in Houghton in 1868. Plus, a resolution was introduced in the State Legislature in 1869 but was never voted on or discussed. A convention was held again in Ishpeming in 1875, but the resolution that was introduced was largely ignored.

In 1916, Menominee Herald-Leader Publisher Roger Andrews gave a speech in Calumet where he referred to the UP as “our Clover-land” and advocated for a separate UP state. Reaction to the speech was positive, but the idea was seen as unrealistic.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore-Munising-Fall
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore | photo via frommarrvantage

The Idea of “Superior” Is Renewed

The idea of a State of Superior was later renewed in the mid-1900s by UP resident Ted Albert. A native of Ironwood, Albert was heavily involved in politics and was considered a maverick by some. He began pursuing separate statehood for the UP as early as 1959, filing a mock divorce suit in federal court to ask for the separation of the two peninsulas.

Albert later formed The UP 51st State of Superior, Inc to promote the idea, carrying the torch for UP statehood for 20 years.

Dominic Jacobetti’s Efforts

In the 1970s, Dominic Jacobetti, a State Representative from Negaunee, renewed efforts to cut ties with the Lower Peninsula and establish a separate state called Superior in House Bill No. 6115 in 1978. This was due to, in part, a push for stronger environmental laws that posed a threat to UP industries, particularly mining. The bill was sent to committee but was never brought up for a vote.

Jaobetti argued that the UP, having autonomy, would allow residents to manage the UP’s natural resources. His renewed push saw speeches given and T-shirts made in support of Superior.

His efforts ultimately lost power by the end of the decade. Though he was able to get the State Legislature to approve a UP statehood feasibility study in 1975, statehood initiatives in several UP communities were defeated that same year.

Upper Peninsula | Photo Via Google Earth
Upper Peninsula | photo via Google Earth

Explore the Many Wonders of the Upper Peninsula

Even if it’s not up for statehood anytime soon, Michiganders know that the Upper Peninsula is a special part of Michigan. From delicious delicacies — like pasties and cudighi — to scenic waterfalls and unforgettable destinations — like Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Lake of the Clouds — the Upper Peninsula is far from a vast wilderness.

The UP beckons residents and visitors alike to enjoy year-round fun, so cross the Mackinac Bridge and discover these and more wonders for yourself!