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Pure Michigan Then and Now

Recalling the age of tourism by rail and steamship

Erin Crowell - November 12th, 2012  


Did you know? Long before Tim Allen was promoting Michigan with his smooth, hypnotic-like voice, our state’s first Pure Michigan campaign was drawing visitors as early as the 1800s.

On Friday, Nov. 16, Michael Federspiel will discuss how local entrepreneurs teamed with railroad and steamship companies to market the Little Traverse Bay region over 100 years ago.

The luncheon lecture will take place at the North Central Michigan College library conference room, in Petoskey, at noon. Lunch will be provided for $9.

DIFFERENT TIMES…

Federspiel, who is executive director of the Little Traverse Historical Society, splits his time teaching history at North Central Michigan College and at Central Michigan University, making him a semi-nomad between his home in the Petoskey area and his home in Midland.

This is the case for many residents of Little Traverse Bay.

“This presentation is designed for people who are local residents, but also for people who occasionally call it home,” Federspiel said by phone, while on the road between his own domiciles. “I’ll be bringing historical images, places people will recognize today and places they won’t recognize because it’s changed so dramatically.”

One of the major differences between the tourism industry then and now is transportation.

“It was largely fielded by public transportation,” said Federspiel. “Little Traverse Bay had the second largest transportation system in Michigan, second to Detroit, in terms of trains and passengers. In 1906, these trains would run every 15 or 20 minutes.”

Advertising was also different then, with newspaper ads and tourist booklets that were available through the railroad.

In terms of funding, things were a bit different then, too.

“That time, it was the railroad companies, steamship companies and local entrepreneurs who were funding the whole thing. It wasn’t a government funded program like it is today.”

…BUT NOT THAT DIFFERENT

While there are differences between marketing methods and funding sources, the target market hasn’t changed much.

“They were blanketing regional cities like Chicago, Kansas City, Louisville, Indianapolis and Cleveland in order to draw people out and encourage them to escape the hot summers of the Midwest, particularly in cities where the health situation with pollution wasn’t good,” said Federspiel.

Our current Pure Michigan campaign still markets to these areas, including regions as far as Milwaukee and Ontario.

At the turn of the 19th Century, the fad was healthy living (sound familiar?).

“Petoskey had a mineral springs bath where you could come and bathe to cure breathing problems like asthma,” said Federspiel.

The area was also heavily marketed to sportsmen for fishing and hunting, and has since expanded into a four-seasons market with such activities like skiing and snowmobiling added to the list.

Just like today, the marketing target included a broad range of demographic where “folks could stay at hotels and eat oysters on the half-shell and go dancing,” said Federspiel, “while boarding houses were also made accommodating to those with little money.’ And—just like today—once people arrived in the area, there was plenty of that “rustic Up North” Michigan to experience, from the Hiawatha Festival to lumbering ground tours.

THE RESULT

Today, the Little Traverse Bay region is a hub of tourist activity, as well as the rest of the state of Michigan, thanks in large part to the marketing efforts of the businesses and transportation industry of yesteryear.

In 2009, the Pure Michigan campaign brought 680,000 summer visitors from out of state where they spent $250 million and paid $17.5 million in taxes – a large return on the $30 million that was spent to fund the campaign.

“I hope it becomes pretty evident that that marketing of the area is still fueling what we have today,” said Federspiel.

Michael Federspiel will discuss the original “Pure Michigan” campaign on Nov. 16 at the North Central Michigan College library conference room. The presentation starts at noon and will include lunch for $9. Reservations are preferred by calling 231-348-6600 or by email, cmacinnis@ncmich.edu.

 
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