In 1701, Detroit was founded by Antoine de La MoThe Cadillac when he planted the flag of France at the foot of what is now Griswold Street. Detroit's geographic location between the upper and lower Great Lakes provided reliable access to several key forest, soil and mining materials. In 1749, concerted efforts were begun to strengthen the French hold on the Ohio territory and develop Detroit as the economic and political center of the region. Incentives such as grants of land and equipment, loans of seed, livestock, and rations were offered to attract more settlers from Quebec.
The resulting population increase was slow, but by 1751, Detroit had a total French population of six hundred people. When farms on the Detroit side became too far from the protection of the fort, the southern or Canadian side was eventually settled. This community was known as Petit Cote (Little Coast) and grew quickly and soon there were at least 150 farmsteads spread along the river. Detroit immediately became an important fur-trading center. With the dredging of a canal linking the Great Lakes with the Hudson River and the opening of the Erie Canal in the early nineteenth century, Detroit became a gateway to the abundant and unexplored Northwest Territory.
The rapidly developing population required various essential materials and goods. While timber, wool and field products were available in the north and west, manufactured goods were available from the east. With its midpoint location, Detroit was the perfect center to handle the transshipment. In addition, the subsequent discovery of copper, iron ore and limestone in northern, Michigan, and the crucial supplies of coal in the south, positioned Detroit as a logical stopping destination. Consequently, the related services provided by bankers, importers, cartage and storage companies, ship builders and dock laborers took root in Detroit. Without the river and the port, Detroit could not have achieved its status as one of the leading manufacturing c enters of the 1950's and 1960's.
In 1925, the legislature passed Public Act 234, the Port Districts Act, authorizing the creation of Port Districts to spearhead the coordination of regional maritime activities. In 1933, the Detroit Wayne County Port District was established with jurisdiction over the waters and shoreline of Wayne County. As more development began to take place, a stronger need for concentration on port activities arose resulting in the establishment of the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority 1978.
The organizational board meeting was held October 10, 1980 and Henry Ford II, served as the first chairman of the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority board of directors.
The Port Authority has a five-member board of directors with one member appointed by the State of Michigan, two by Wayne County and two by the City of Detroit. Funding for the Port Authority is provided by the State of Michigan, Wayne County and the City of Detroit. Greater Detroit Foreign Trade Zone, Inc. is funded through fees paid by the foreign trade zone general-purpose zones and sub-zones. The Greater Detroit Foreign Trade Zone, Inc. is a separate non-profit Michigan corporation administered by the Port Authority.