Earthquake History

The earliest record of earthquake tremors felt in Michigan Territory (statehood came in 1837) were from the great series of shocks centered near New Madrid, Missouri in 1811 and 1812. As many as nine tremors from the New Madrid earthquake series were reported felt distinctly at Detroit.

A damaging earthquake, apparently centered between Montreal and Quebec in the Saint Lawrence Valley, occurred on October 20, 1870. This shock was felt over an area estimated to be at least a million square miles including Sault Sainte Marie.

Between 1872 and 1883 a number of moderate earthquakes were centered within Michigan. On February 6, 1872, three shocks lasting 30 seconds were reported at Wenona. No additional information is known about these tremors. Reports from Redford and Greenfield Village, not far from Detroit, indicated a minor earthquake occurred on August 17, 1877. It was noted that horses were frightened during this shock. Some persons reported hearing a noise like a train. On February 4, 1883, an earthquake cracked windows and shook buildings at Kalamazoo (intensity VI). This shock was felt in southern Michigan and northern Indiana. Cities as distant as Bloomington, Illinois and St. Louis, Missouri also reported feeling this earthquake.

The destructive earthquake that hit Charleston, South Carolina on August 31, 1886, was felt as far north as Milwaukee, Wisconsin and probably in parts of Michigan. On October 31, 1895, Charleston, Missouri experienced a major earthquake. Considered the severest shock in the central U.S. region since the 1811 - 1812 earthquakes, the 1-million-square-mile felt area included parts of Michigan. A moderate earthquake of intensity V was felt at Menominee on March 13, 1905.

A series of unusual occurrences in the Keweenaw Peninsula mining area form a significant part of the seismic history of Michigan. The first disturbance was on July 26, 1905 at about 6:20 in the evening. At Calumet there occurred what appeared to be a terrific explosion. Chimneys fell with a crash and plate glass windows were broken (intensity VII). The explosion was heard far down in a mine and the shock was felt all over the Keweenaw Peninsula area and as far away as Marquette, about 70 miles southeast across Lake Superior. Ten months later, on May 26, 1906, a similar phenomenon occurred. Train rails were twisted, and there was a notable sinking of the earth above the Atlantic mine. The disturbance was reported felt over an area about 30 to 40 miles in diameter. Another shock occurred in the same region on January 22, 1909. A rumbling tremor was felt around Houghton and was believed to be caused by the crushing of pillars in a mine.

The earthquake of August 9, 1947, damaged chimneys and cracked plaster over a large area of south-central Michigan and affected a total area of about 50,000 square miles, including points north to Muskegon and Saginaw and parts of Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. The cities of Athens, Bronson, Coldwater, Colon, Matteson Lake, Sherwood, and Union City in the south-central part of the State all experienced intensity VI effects. Reports of damage to chimneys and some instances of cracked or fallen plaster, broken windows, and merchandise thrown from store shelves were common over the epicentral area.

A number of other earthquakes centered outside the State have been felt in Michigan. Noteworthy among these are the following:

February 28, 1925
St. Lawrence River region northwest of Murray Bay (La Malbaie), Quebec, Canada; felt area approximately 2 million square miles; intensity V at Grand Rapids, Newberry, and Whitefish Point, Michigan.

November 1, 1935
Timiskaming, Quebec, Canada; 1-million-square-mile felt area; intensity V at Alpena, Hillman, Mount Clemens, Pellston, and Port Huron, Michigan.

March 2 and 8, 1937
Western Ohio; 150,000-square-mile felt area (second shock); felt at many places in southern Michigan.

September 4, 1944
St. Lawrence River region between Massena, New York and Cornwall, Ontario, Canada; 175,000-square-mile felt area (in the U.S.); felt at Alpena, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Saginaw, and Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan.

November 9, 1968
South-central Illinois; felt area approximately 580,000 square miles (including all or portions of 23 states); felt throughout southern Michigan.

Abridged from Earthquake Information Bulletin, Volume 5, Number 6, November - December 1973, by Carl A. von Hake.

For a list of earthquakes that have occurred since this article was written, use the Earthquake Search.