‘The Detroit News’ Turns 150

Here we take a look back at some of the most iconic moments captured by the daily newspaper.
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The Detroit News mailing room, November 1931. Photograph courtesy of The Detroit News.

Milestones are always important, but there’s something extra special about seeing a legacy newspaper in one of America’s largest cities turn 150.

In an era when we’ve seen some of the most iconic news organizations fall — not to mention the countless unmentioned smaller ones — getting your local news delivered by local reporters, on actual printed paper, no less, is certainly something worth celebrating.

And The Detroit News is celebrating, starting with the release of a specially made bourbon (the label features its front page from the day Prohibition was repealed), a commemorative book and, through Aug. 23 (the paper’s official birthday), a 150-day countdown listing the 150 Michigan residents who have most affected our news and lives over the last century and a half.

At Hour Detroit, we felt the moment was worth celebrating as well, and so we sat down with The Detroit News to talk about some of the most iconic moments the paper has captured with a camera in the last 150 years.

How to choose among thousands of photos? It wasn’t easy, but after talking about different categories we might consider — news, history, sports, entertainment — we settled on the eight assembled here.

Enjoy … maybe with a glass of bourbon.

The First Photo Pulitzer

The first Pulitzer Prize awarded for photography was won by Milton (Pete) Brooks of The Detroit News. Entitled “The Picket Line,” his dramatic photo chronicled a violent episode outside the Ford Motor Company’s strike-bound Rouge Plant in Dearborn. // Photograph by Pete Brooks.

In 1937, tensions in the labor movement were high, and the News captured the atmosphere in words as well as photos, including this one, in which men from Ford Motor Co.’s security department attack a group of unionists.

“Pulitzer at the time had awards for print journalism,” Pat Zacharias, head librarian for the News said in 2016. “They saw that image and said we need a category for photography. So even though this photo did not win the Pulitzer, that category was created as a result of this photo.”

Steve Yzerman Lifts the Stanley Cup

Steve Yzerman hoists the Stanley Cup for the first time in his career, June 7, 1997. // Photograph by David Guralnick.

It was one of the most memorable moments in Detroit sports history when, on June 7, 1997, the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup inside Joe Louis Arena — the first time they’d won the title in 42 years.

Sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers in four games, the Wings also had one of the most memorable lineups in NHL history with Yzerman as captain, plus the Russian Five: Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Vyacheslav Kozlov, Vladimir Konstantinov, and Viacheslav Fetisov.

“The anticipation for that Cup victory was huge,” says Detroit News photographer David Guralnick. “This is when they finally broke through. Two years prior, they were swept by the Devils and then again by the Avalanche, and finally, in 1997, they took care of business.”

Gyrocopter

Detroit News auto giro flies over downtown Detroit. // Photograph courtesy of The Detroit News archives.

Before there were drones, there were gyrocopters. From 1931 to 1933, The Detroit News used a “specially designed autogiro,” according to the paper’s archives, “the first of its kind used for news gathering, aerial photography and emergency distribution of papers.” It was later given to the Henry Ford Museum.

MLK Gives the First ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech

Dr. Martin Luther King gives his original “I Have a Dream” speech in Cobo Arena June 23, 1963, during the city’s March for Freedom. Photograph courtesy of The Detroit News.

Detroit heard it first. Before Martin Luther King Jr. gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., he gave another version of it in Detroit.

The lighting in this photo may make it look like King is outside, but he’s really inside a packed Cobo Hall in 1963.

Diana Ross and Berry Gordy

Berry Gordy Jr. listens as The Supremes lay down a track during a January 1965 recording session at Motown Records’ Studio A, 2648 W. Grand Blvd. in Detroit. Left to right are Berry Gordy Jr., Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard and Diana Ross. A copy of this photo is mounted on the wall of Studio A today for visitors to the Motown Museum to see. // Photograph courtesy of The Detroit News.

This photo captures a moment in 1965 at Motown Records’ Studio A on West Grand Boulevard, as Berry Gordy Jr. listens while The Supremes record a track. Gordy is pictured here with (from left) Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and Diana Ross.

Gordy and Ross were a longtime couple; they started as professionals but over time fell in love.

“It’s very clear why I fell in love with Diana,” Gordy told Vanity Fair in 2008. “She was my star, and she came from the bottom up. With her it was not only fun, it was just like heaven working with her because she would surpass anything.”

Bootlegging over the Detroit River

Prohibition became the law in 1920 and ended in 1933, The Detroit River became the major route for smugglers who made rum-running the second largest industry in Michigan after the auto industry. When the river froze, it seemed an easy matter to drive across, but overloading your truck could be disastrous. // Photograph courtesy of The Detroit News.

Detroit was a perfect spot for bootleggers, with Canada just a short icy drive away. The ice made for a great road … except for when it didn’t, as seen in this Prohibition-era photo when a driver’s car, possibly overloaded with booze, crashed through.

2004 Champions

Ben Wallace holds the world championship trophy aloft as the Pistons beat the Lakers in Game 5 at the Palace of Auburn Hills. // Photograph by Daniel Mears for The Detroit News, 2004.

The Palace of Auburn Hills was home to one of the biggest upsets in American sports, period. In the 2004 NBA Finals, the Detroit Pistons easily bested the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers 4-1.

After a 100-87 win in the last game, center Ben Wallace triumphantly holds the trophy, celebrating Detroit’s first world championship victory since 1990 and, unfortunately, the only one since.

“Their defense was out of control — I knew we weren’t going to beat them at Game 1,” Gary Payton, a Lakers point guard that season, admitted in a recent interview with VladTV.

Throwing the Octopus

An octopus gets thrown onto the ice before the start of the game. Photos are of the Detroit Red Wings vs. the Chicago Blackhawks during game two of the Western Conference semi-finals at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit., May 20, 2013. // Photograph by David Guralnick for The Detroit News.

When it comes to covering sports, Detroit News Managing Editor Kevin J. Hardy says, it’s not just about watching the game. It’s also about the fans. That’s why this octopus throwing photo by Guralnick is among his favorites.

Noting the man on the left, Hardy says, “I want to see the frame after that.”


This story is from the August 2023 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.