Why Michigan is Considered Midwest When it’s Barely ‘Mid’ and Not at All ‘West’
For a very long time, Michigan's classification as being in the "midwest" has bothered me. I had a few theories on why this might be, which I discovered were mostly incorrect.
Let's do a little exercise to get on the same page. Forget everything that you have learned about America, and look at the map below as if it were a country you're seeing for the first time. What region of said country would you say the circled portion is in?
Now, any reasonable person who objectively looked at the map would likely consider the circled portion a part of the country's Northeastern or Middle Eastern region, right? Maybe you could come up with a few other fitting region names by combining two applicable directions, but in no sensible way would one of those be "Midwest." I think we can all agree on that.
Just look at how far we are from being in the western portion when the map is evenly divided.
There's literally an entire region between Michigan and anything west, and it's certainly not the western part of the central region either. So just where the hell does the "west" come from in Midwest? Here are the two things I assumed prior to researching this:
1. It's an old classification from back before the country expanded that far west. Once upon a time in American history, Michigan was in the westernmost region, as seen below in an approximated map of the United States around the early 1800s:
Keep in mind that this is a rough approximation and maybe not entirely accurate, but you see my point about how Michigan was once much more western in relation to the rest of the country. That brings me to my next assumed theory about why they didn't change the name of the region when the country expanded...
2. The most fitting classification for where it is now, to me, is Middle East. However, there's already a pretty popular region of the world that is commonly referred to as the Middle East and... well, our history in that region is... let's just say that would make war reporting and international affairs pretty confusing for news anchors and viewers alike.
As it turns out, both of those theories, based on nothing but assumption were wrong, which brings us to the million-dollar question:
What's the Real Reason Michigan is Still Considered the Midwest?
Michigan is only part of the Midwest because they changed its classification, not because they didn't. Until the 1980s, we were in the region known as the North Central Region. A more fitting name, but definitely not as catchy and would look stupid on a t-shirt. In 1984, its name was changed and it became the Midwest.
Apparently, the Census Bureau has the country divided into four regions -- Northeast, Midwest, South, and West. See below.
Not exactly how I would've split up the map, but whatever. Breaking it down even further, there are nine total divisions that make up those four regions. The two that make up the Midwestern Region are the West North Central and the East North Central. We're in the East North Central, which is also not a very strong name for branding purposes, but at least it's geographically accurate.
I would say they should officially change it to the Great Lakes Region, since each state in our division touches one, as you can see above. However, there is also a bi-national area considered the Great Lakes region that includes Pennsylvania, New York, and Ontario. So we're part of that too.
All of these regions and divisions are starting to give me a headache, but the long and short of it is that somebody lumped us into a larger group that contained some western states back in the 1980s and now we're all Midwesterners because of it. I guess if you look at our position on the globe, in relation to other continents, Midwest isn't entirely inaccurate. We're sort of in the middle of the largest western-most landmass -- so that's something.