15 Amazing Facts About America’s Most Famous College Town

If you have ever spent time in Ann Arbor, Michigan, you may feel a sense of awe.

Perhaps America’s most famous college town, Ann Arbor is unlike any other city in the world.

Home to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor not only houses a top-tier research university, it is also one of America’s most dynamic cultures.

Historically, Ann Arbor has been a major intellectual center for forward-thinking liberal politics. Today, Ann Arbor successfully carries this feeling into the 21st century and has become one of the most highly-ranked cities in the country.

Ann Arbor is complete with a unique culture & history separating it from every other college town in America.

So what makes Ann Arbor so interesting? Here are 15 intriguing facts about Ann Arbor.

15. Fairy Doors Are Everywhere

Dwight Burdette, Fairy door at Red Shoes Ann Arbor Michigan, CC BY 3.0

One of Ann Arbor’s most distinct, mystical features are its fairy doors. 

The very first fairy doors were spotted in 1993 at the residence of two Ann Arborites. The first public fairy door was actually spotted outside a Sweetwater’s in 2005, and since then another 10 have shown up throughout the city.

True to the nature of Ann Arbor, the cultural response has been exceptionally positive; children in Ann Arbor are seen leaving gifts for the fairies at the doors. Local shops sometimes hand out maps for all the fairy doors in the city.

Additionally, a number of high-profile newspapers have covered the emergence of these charming entrances, including the Washington Post in 2006.

14. The University of Michigan Once Went Nearly 25 Years Without Holding a Class

It is strange to think that one of the nation’s most bustling institutions once did not have class for 25 years.

But it’s true – the University of Michigan was technically founded in 1817 in Detroit. It relocated 20 years later to Ann Arbor – and never actually held a class in Detroit!

It still took the school four more years after its relocation to have its very first class in 1841.

The first graduating class of Michigan, in 1845, consisted of 11 men, according to Travel and Leisure. In 175 years, the school has grown – just a little bit – to over 46,000 students.

13. An Amazing 1.5 Million Trees Adorn Ann Arbor

Dwight Burdette, Peony Garden Nichols Arboretum University of Michigan Ann Arbor, CC BY 3.0

According to the City of Ann Arbor, 1.5 million trees comprise what the residents call “Tree Town.” These trees naturally remove over 400 tons of pollution every year, equivalent to the pollution generated by nearly 360,000 automobiles!

Because of these trees, Ann Arbor has healthier air, less carbon dioxide, and cleaner water compared to other cities with less forestry.

It makes sense Ann Arbor has so many trees; after all, it takes its name from the word arbor, which means tree in Latin.

12. The Internet’s Biggest Musical Started Here

One of YouTube’s biggest sensations in its first five years online was a musical started in Ann Arbor.

Based on the famed Harry Potter series, A Very Potter Musical was created and performed by students at the University of Michigan. 

Many of the actors in this musical consisted of future Hollywood stars, including Golden-Globe award winning actor Darren Criss.

With over 15 million views on YouTube alone, A Very Potter Musical was one of the internet’s biggest success stories of the early 2000s. 

So what did J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, think about this?

In a response to a fan on Twitter in 2015, J.K. Rowling said she felt it was “a work of genius.” 

11. The First Anti-War “Teach-In” Started in Ann Arbor

A teach-in is an educational seminar about a current affair, normally political in nature. Unlike a traditional seminar, there are no time-limits, and there is a strong bias towards taking action to further a specific cause.

Ann Arbor, intentionally or not, created the first teach-in back in 1965. 

The topic of this teach-in? The Vietnam War, specifically the draft.

This anti-war teach-in was the first of many, spawning a historic national movement. Subsequent anti-war teach-ins were later staged at Columbia University, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and NYU throughout the rest of 1965.

Ann Arbor’s tremendous legacy as an anti-war college town paved the way for academia to speak out against social issues. The impact this has had in our country cannot be stated enough, which is another reason why Ann Arbor is such an important college town.

10. Many of the World’s Most Recognized Companies Have Offices in Ann Arbor

A division of Google is based in Ann Arbor. 

Car and Driver Magazine – the “tell it how it is” publication & website all about reviewing the latest in automobiles – is also based in Ann Arbor.

Ever had Domino’s Pizza? Yeap – based in Ann Arbor.

The former largest competitor to Barnes & Noble, Borders, was also based in Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor, in its own right, has become an entrepreneurial center of the country; hundreds of successful tech startups have been formed in Ann Arbor in the last decade, often by alumni of the University of Michigan.

9. The Fragel Was Invented In Ann Arbor

The fragel is a fried bagel with lots of cinnamon and sugar, essentially a cross between a donut and a bagel.

It started as just as a raisin bagel, but then after some significant evolution, the inventor fried it and it turned into a new food. 

The fragel has been a staple of Ann Arbor cuisine since the 1970s. That it is rarely seen outside of Michigan makes it a favorite for the local city dweller who wants a taste of something purely Ann Arbor.

8. Forbes Repeatedly Calls It America’s Best College Town

Forbes repeatedly names Ann Arbor America’s best college town – and it is easy to see why.

Some of the midwest’s best music establishments, nature, arts festivals, and more are in Ann Arbor.

The cultural options are endless – the Ann Arbor Film Festival, Michigan football, concerts at Hill Auditorium…

Don’t forget about Zingerman’s, the city’s beloved Kerrytown-based deli.

7. Home to the World’s 2nd-Biggest Football Stadium

AndrewHorne, Michigan Stadium 2011, CC BY-SA 3.0

We all know how amazing Ann Arbor’s The Big House is.

However, did you know it is the world’s 2nd-largest stadium in any sport? 

With a max capacity of nearly 110,000, no stadium in the United States is larger than the Michigan Stadium, home to Wolverines football.

Every home game since late 1975, according to Wikipedia, has had an attendance of at least 100,000 people

6. Speaking of Football, The Wolverines Are the Winningest in the History of College Football

That’s right, the Wolverines have collected over 960 wins in the lifetime of their football program.

That’s more than any other college football team, including Alabama, Texas, and Ohio State.

It seems fitting the biggest stadium in America goes to the winningest football team in history, doesn’t it?

5. Past Residents Include Darth Vader, a Google Co-Founder, a President, Tom Brady, and Madonna

Many alumni of the University of Michigan became leaders in the technology, sports, film, and music industries.

James Earl Jones, actor perhaps most famous for voicing the original Darth Vader, attended the University of Michigan. 

So did Larry Page, a Google co-founder. 

Tom Brady went to 9 Super Bowls, and Madonna became one of the world’s top recording artists.

Former US President Gerald Ford attended Michigan as well.

4. One of America’s Most Important Film Festivals Is here

One of the nation’s best film festivals, the Ann Arbor film festival, attracts over 3,000 submissions every year for inclusion in its programming. In particular, independent and experimental films are staples of this annual festival.

The first event of this film festival in Ann Arbor was in 1963; because it is still operating, it is the 4th-oldest film festival in the country. 

Some icons who have made an appearance at the Ann Arbor Film Festival include George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan, and Yoko Ono.

The Ann Arbor Film Festival actually serves as a qualifying festival for Academy Award consideration in the Short Films category. 

3. One of the World’s Most Revolutionary Cameras Was Created in Ann Arbor

The most popular camera of the 1940s and 1950s was the Argus C3, a favorite instrument of former President – and Michigan alum – Gerald Ford, as well as hundreds of thousands of others.

Everything about the camera was revolutionary: it was portable, easy to use, and took great quality pictures considering the technology of the time period. Best of all, it was a low price entryway into a photography market that was more expensive back in the early 20th-century.

The C3 is well-known for documenting many of the most iconic images during World War II. Photographer Tony Vaccaro was 22 years old when he shot many of the most famous World War II photos that have since become widely circulated. Vaccaro is actually still alive today, by the way, at 96 years old.

Over 2 million units of this camera were sold in the mid-20th century.

2. Six Miles of Tunnels Exist Beneath the City’s Campus

Believe it or not, an underground tunnel system exists in Ann Arbor.

One student of the University of Michigan from the early 70s, known in Ann Arbor legend as “Tunnel Bob,” would go exploring throughout the tunnels on a regular basis. 

Although Tunnel Bob’s true identity is not known, he would explore the tunnels for miles with other students.

The tunnels are not intended for public use, and most likely will never be used for the public. However, the tunnels themselves remain part of the city’s legendary status.

1. The School Was Once Not Called the University of Michigan

Ann Arbor
Dwight Burdette, Ann Arbor Michigan Skyline, CC BY 3.0

Before it was known as the University of Michigan, this public university had a unique name: the very catchy Catholepistemiad.

Can you imagine telling your friends and family that you are a Wolverine who graduated from the Catholepistemiad? 

However, the name didn’t stick around for long – it changed by 1821, before any classes were ever held at the University of Michigan.

Those are 15 facts about Michigan – have any more to share? Let us know in the comments.



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