Belle Isle bridge. (Credit: Bill Szumanski/WWJ)

Belle Isle bridge. (Credit: Bill Szumanski/WWJ)

When it comes to little known facts and the many firsts for Detroit, all you have to do it look around you at the roads, river or listen to the radio. If you have ever wondered where the ice cream float came from or who had the first stop light in the nation, then read on and you will be enlightened.

Motor City Motoring Firsts
Woodward Dream Cruise
Woodward Ave.
Detroit, MI 48201

Detroit is the Motor City and even back in 1909, the automobile was becoming king in the town when the first paved road in the nation was constructed along Woodward Avenue from Six Mile to Seven Mile roads. The project along Woodward Avenue seems to be a steal at a cost of just under $14,000 with the state putting $1,000 towards the project. Then in 1919, the first traffic light was installed at Michigan Avenue and Woodward and in 1942, the Davison Freeway was open, the first freeway in the nation. You can re-live a bit of 1950s car nostalgia in August as hot rods and classics cruise down Woodward Avenue for the annual Woodward Dream Cruise.

Belle Isle Park
Belle Isle Conservancy
8109 E. Jefferson Ave.
Detroit, MI 48214
(313) 331-7760

With Belle Isle Park in the news as of late regarding it becoming the 101st Michigan State Park in 2014, this beautiful island deserves to be remembered for the fact that it has a long history, having opened in 1884, and is in fact the largest island park in the nation. Another fact that many people do not know is that the park was designed by Frederick Olmstead, the same person that helped to layout Central Park in New York City. Not only does the park offer a myriad of facilities for humans to enjoy, but it is also home to a rare breed of European fallow deer that were introduced back in the late 1800s.

First Commercial Radio Station To Broadcast News Reports
WWJ 950 AM
26455 American Drive
Southfield, MI 48034

On Aug. 20, 1920, station 8MK went on the air with news reports and it was the first in the nation to do so. Still on the air today, but with a much more recognizable name of WWJ – CBS Detroit, the station is alive and very well indeed. When the station began, it was located in the Detroit News Building and was in fact financed by the newspaper. As with all new technology, there were those who believed at the time that radio was only a fad and would not last long. Looks like they were wrong.

Related: Best Tourist Attractions In Detroit Worth The Hype

Home Of The First Ice Cream And Soda Float
The Vernor’s Store
1465 W. 14 Mile Road
Madison Heights, MI 48071
(888) 515-0008

If you live in or have visited Michigan, you know it is the home of Vernor’s ginger ale. Developed by James Vernor who owned a drug store near Boston Boulevard in downtown Detroit. In the late 1800s, he combined his Vernor’s Ginger Ale with ice cream from the nearby Pavilion of Sweets, which was owned by Fred Sanders, and the Boston Cooler was born. It was named after the street nearby and not the city in Massachusetts. Others took the idea and the root beer float was born, but it will forever be the Vernor’s float that is the first and, if you ask many people, the best float around.

Home Port Of The Only Floating Post Office And Zip Code
J.W. Westcott II
12 24th St.
Detroit, MI 48222
(313) 496-0555

Since the first explorers and settlers came to the region, the Detroit River has been an artery of travel and commerce and since 1874, mail and other items have been delivered to passing ships by one of the J.W. Westcott ships that cruise the river. The Westcott, which has a zip code of 48222, continues to deliver mail, but the problem is how do you get the mail onto the deck of a freighter towering above you. Simple, you lower a bucket on a rope, and this is still done to facilitate many deliveries. But along with the mail, the Westcott is not limited to letters from home. The ship is known to, on occasion, deliver a pizza or two to hungry sailors on the passing Great Lakes freighters.

Related: Best Places In Detroit To Watch The Sunset

Award winning freelance writer and photographer Lawrence DiVizio is based in Southeast Michigan and works to convey in words and images the world around us. His work can be found at