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Fun Facts About Kalamazoo

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Gibson Guitar Corporation

Orville Gibson (born 1856) patented a single-piece mandolin design in 1898 that was more durable than other mandolins and could be manufactured in volume. Orville Gibson began to sell his instruments in 1894 out of a one-room workshop in Kalamazoo. He founded the (now Gibson Brands, Inc.) company in 1902 as The Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Mfg. Co., Ltd.

Between 1974 and 1984, production of Gibson guitars was shifted from Kalamazoo to Nashville, Tennessee. The Kalamazoo plant kept going for a few years as a custom-instrument shop, but was closed in 1984; several Gibson employees led by plant manager Jim Duerloo established Heritage Guitars in the old factory, building versions of classic Gibson designs.

 

Checker Taxi Cab

Checker Motors Corporation was located in Kalamazoo. The vehicle manufacturer and tier-one subcontractor manufactured taxicabs used by Checker Taxi.

 

The Shakespeare Company 

William Shakespeare, Jr. was an American inventor who invented the level-winding fishing reel. Shakespeare also founded and was one of the key people of Shakespeare Fishing Tackle, which he founded in 1897 in Kalamazoo, as a fisherman aiming to improve the fishing-reel mechanism.

 

Derek Jeter and Greg Jennings

Well-known professional athletes, Greg Jennings of the Minnesota Vikings and Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees, are both graduates of Kalamazoo Central High School. Jennings is also a proud WMU graduate.

 

Celery City

Kalamazoo County was the Celery Capital of the World in the early decades of the last century. Celery touted as “fresh as dew from Kalamazoo” was shipped throughout the U.S.

 

Elvis Presley 

“Suite 201 of the Columbia Plaza building in downtown Kalamazoo was Elvis Presley’s office when he visited Kalamazoo… The story goes that Elvis used to visit Kalamazoo back in the 1960s and 70s so that he could stop by the Gibson Guitar factory.”

 

Sweetwater’s Donut Mill

The family-owned and managed donut shop in Kalamazoo has gained national recognition as one of the “Best Donuts in America,” by MSN City Guide and AOL.

 

Sustainable Craft Brewing Program

The nation’s first higher education programs in sustainable craft brewing were launched at Kalamazoo Valley Community College and Western Michigan University in 2015.

 

Alamo Drafthouse

The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is an American cinema chain founded in 1997 in Austin, Texas that is famous for its strict policy of requiring its audiences to maintain proper cinema-going etiquette. The food and drink service offered inside the theater, including cold beers, also adds to the unique experience. The theater in Kalamazoo is the chain’s first and only Midwest location.

 

President Obama

In 2010, President Obama spoke in WMU’s University Arena at the commencement ceremony for Kalamazoo Central after he selected the school from more than 1,000 entries as the winner in the first Race to the Top Commencement Challenge.

 

Paper City

Kalamazoo has been called the Paper City for its many paper and cardboard mills made possible by the rivers.

 

Ozzy Osbourne

Apparently, Ozzy Osbourne proposed to his wife Sharon while in Kalamazoo in 1981.

 

Abraham Lincoln in Bronson Park

Abraham Lincoln’s only visit to Michigan was at a rally in Bronson Park in 1856.

 

Kalamazoo and the American Foundation for the Blind

Kalamazoo is rated one of the best places to live in the U.S. for people who are blind or visually impaired by the American Foundation for the Blind.

 

Glenn Miller

He made famous the song “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo.” The students at Kalamazoo College decided that we needed a real Gal in Kalamazoo and voted Sara Wooley that Gal. Sara traveled around the country representing Kalamazoo at War Bond Drives and USO Dances during World War II.

 

The Kalamazoo Art Fair

Held annually on the first weekend in June, it is the second oldest community art fair in America and attracts 60,000 visitors over two days.

 

Kalamazoo Promise

The Kalamazoo Promise is a pledge by a group of anonymous donors to pay up to 100 percent of tuition at any of Michigan‘s state colleges or universities for graduates of Kalamazoo public high schools. Overall, more than 90 percent of Kalamazoo’s graduates today go on to higher education.

 

Ladies Library Association

The Ladies Library Association building, built in 1879, was the first to house a women’s club in the nation. This was even prior to the time women could be property owners or vote.

 

WMU Paper Engineering

WMU’s paper engineering program, which dates back to 1948, is one of 10 such programs in the country and one of a few programs that began not in forestry but in chemistry.

 

Dr. Nathan Thomas House

On Cass Street east of U.S. 131 in Schoolcraft. Built in 1835 by the county’s first doctor, Nathan Thomas, this house once was a link in the network of safe houses that hid former slaves as part of the Underground Railroad. It’s open for tours by appointment only. Call the Schoolcraft Historical Society at (269) 679-4689 for more information.

 

Air Zoo

The Air Zoo is the tenth largest non-government aviation museum in the nation. It is nationally recognized for their restoration efforts and is Smithsonian affiliated. Also Voted the “Best Place to Take Out-of-Towners” and “Best Place to Spend a Day with Your Family” three years in a row.

 

Largest indoor painted mural

In 2004, the painted mural inside of the Air Zoo broke the record for world’s largest indoor painted mural. The hand-painted mural measures 25,000 square feet (excludes areas covered by attractions), which is equivalent to the length of three football fields. The mural was commissioned to pay tribute to the history of flight in the Air Zoo’s multi-sensory aviation attraction.

 

The United Kennel Club (UKC)

The United Kennel Club, the nation’s second oldest and second largest all-breed dog registry, was founded in Kalamazoo in 1898.

 

Combine Harvestor (Combine)

The combine was invented in village of Climax, located in Kalamazoo County.

 

Moped Army

Founded in 1997 as the Decepticons in Kalamazoo by Daniel Kastner, Simon King, and Brennan Sang, and as of November 2011 the organization has grown to include twenty-two official branches across the US.

 

Vine Neighborhood 

In 2009, the Vine neighborhood was described by the national magazine This Old House as one of the best places for families to buy an old house. The magazine cited the Vine’s proximity to downtown, schools, parks, hiking trails and playgrounds.

 

Barn Theatre

The Barn Theatre in Augusta is Michigan’s oldest summer stock theatre at 60+ years old. Actors such as Tom Wopat, Melissa Gilbert, Jennifer Garner, Kim Zimmer and Dana Delaney have performed at The Barn.

 

Frank Lloyd Wright Houses

Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959) was one of America’s most influential twentieth century architects. His concept of the Usonian House– “a home of the common people”–can be seen in eight homes that he designed in Kalamazoo County.

 

Kalamazoo Corset Company

The Kalamazoo Corset Company began life in Three Oaks, Michigan, as the Featherbone Corset Company. In 1891, company president James H. Hatfield moved the company to Kalamazoo and soon renamed his business.

 

Bell’s Brewery

Not only the largest microbrewery in Michigan, Bell’s Brewery is also the first and oldest craft-brewer east of Boulder, Colorado.

 

Kalamazoo Mall 

The first outdoor pedestrian shopping mall in the United States was begun with the closing of Burdick Street to auto traffic in 1959. The four block long mall, stretching from Lovell Street on the South to Eleanor Street on the north, has been restyled to match the attributes of the Arcadia Commons development, where the new Kalamazoo Public Museum anchors the north end of the mall. In 1999, however, two blocks of the mall were modified to accommodate auto traffic after a period of political debates on the issue.

 

Kalamazoo Valley Museum

In 2000, the Kalamazoo Valley Museum was voted the top small museum in Michigan by readers of Michigan Living Magazine.

 

Civic Theater

Kalamazoo Civic Auditorium was built in 1929, Michigan’s oldest Civic Auditorium. Also, it is ranked number one among its peers from the American Association of Community theatre for community theatres in the country.

 

The Upjohn Company and Pfizer

In the late 1800’s, Dr. W.E. Upjohn moved to Kalamazoo and created The Upjohn Company, which is now part of Pfizer Corporation, the world’s largest pharmaceutical firm.

 

Kalamazoo Nature Center

Kalamazoo Nature Center was voted the number one nature center in the nation by other nature centers.

 

Women’s Professional Sports

There are two professional women’s sports teams in Kalamazoo County. Women’s Tackle Football (West Michigan Mayhem) and Soccer (Kalamazoo Outrage)

 

The Medieval Institute

Western Michigan University’s Medieval Institute ranks among the top ten of the 90 institutes, center and programs for Medieval studies in North America.

 

Art Hop

On the first Friday of each month, the Arts Council organizes the ‘Art Hop’. Art Hop is a free event, during which downtown businesses and galleries display works by local artists, and patrons ‘hop’ from venue to venue, enjoying art, live music, and the chance to interact with local artists.

 

mophie

A popular smartphone accessory company that was kick-started in a Kalamazoo barn in 2006.