The early inhabitants of the Saginaw Valley were Native American tribes such as the Chippewa and Ottawa Indians. The first white men in the Saginaw wilderness were the French Canadian voyageurs who established Saginaw as a trading post on the west side of the Saginaw River after the War of 1812. The name Saginaw is derived from the Ojibway Native American term "O-Sage-non" which is translated as "to flow out" and refers to the outflow of the Saginaw River into the Saginaw Bay.
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Around 1850, the population grew to 900 with the arrival of German immigrants who established agricultural settlements. The population increased even more throughout the 1800's with the establishment of the lumber industry. In 1855 there were 23 sawmills in operation, and by the 1880's two of those sawmills alone each produced over 50 million board feet. Other important industries in the late 1800's included salt and coal mining.
The present-day City of Saginaw includes the first settlement around what had been Fort Saginaw which was incorporated as the City of Saginaw in 1857 and contained the seat of Saginaw County government. On the east side of the river a parallel settlement, East Saginaw, developed which was incorporated first as a village in 1855, and then as a city in 1859. South of the City of East Saginaw, on the east bank of the river, the Village of Salina formed. Both Saginaw and East Saginaw quickly became a hub for railroad transportation in addition to serving as shipping ports on the Saginaw River. In June of 1889 the Michigan Legislature consolidated the City of Saginaw and the City of East Saginaw into a new city that also was named the City of Saginaw. The Village of Salina had already been added to the City of East Saginaw prior to this time.
In the 1890's the City of Saginaw fell into a depression with the rapid decline of the lumber industry and salt production. The depression was short lived and within ten years Saginaw was booming again with new industry and culture related to the industrial revolution. During the 1900s, Saginaw's economy was dominated by manufacturing related to the automotive and defense industries. Immigration from other areas, particularly the American south, swelled the population. This population growth particularly expanded the presence of African-Americans in Saginaw. In a 1914 Census, the population of Saginaw was estimated to be 54,000. The population continued to grow through the 1960's when it peaked at 98,265.
Nearby Towns: Saginaw Charter Twp •