Arthur Vandenberg, U.S. senator and champion of


Our staff amassed a list of the 150 Michiganians who most affected the news, history and our lives − for better or worse − in the 150 years of The Detroit News, ranked from 150 to 1 (Read the FAQ on our selection process here). Here are our picks, one a day through our birthday on Aug. 23.

39: Arthur Vandenberg, U.S. senator and champion of the United Nations (1884-1951)

Sen. Arthur Vandeberg, July 5, 1929.

The word statesman must have been created to describe Michigan Sen. Arthur Vandenberg. A biography described him as “the man in the middle of the 20th century,” and that’s an accurate summation of his career. The Republican served Michigan in the Senate from 1928 to 1951. He is best known for leading the effort to create the United Nations in Congress. He also gave critical backing to the Cold War, the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan and NATO. Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Vandenberg started his career as a newspaper publisher. He was appointed to the Senate by Gov. Fred Green upon the death of Sen. Woodbridge Ferris. He initially opposed America’s involvement in World War II but became a key figure in leading the Republican Party from isolationism to international engagement, famously saying “politics stops at the water’s edge.” Vandenberg ran for president in 1940 and 1948. Like his predecessor, he died in office.

▶ About The News:About The News: 150 Detroit News facts in 150 days

40: Albert Kahn, architect of Detroit industry (1869-1942)

Architect Albert Kahn works at a drafting table, Feb. 5, 1931. He designed some major Detroit buildings, including the General Motors building and the Fisher building.

Detroit got its looks from Albert Kahn. Prolific as an industrial architect during the early 20th Century, Khan designed more than 1,000 buildings for Henry Ford, including the Highland Park plant where the Model T was made and ther Rouge complex in Dearborn. By 1937, the architectural group he led could claim authorship of 19% of the architect-designed factories in the United States. Detroit is filled with his skyscrapers, including the art deco Fisher Building and its neighbor, the General Motors Headquarters. He also crafted the Detroit Athletic Club, the Cranbrook House, the Edsel and Eleanor Ford house, the old Detroit News headquarters, and many homes in Indian Village. With his brother, Khan developed a revolutionary concrete construction method that enabled the building of wider and taller structures. Roughly 60 of his buildings are on the National Register of Historic places.

41: Henry Leland, inventor and founder of Cadillac and Lincoln (1843-1932)

Cadillac President Henry Leland and the1905 Cadillac Osceola concept, which would eventually become the 1910 Model 30.

Luxury vehicles owe their origins to Henry Leland. The engineer, inventor and automotive executive founded America’s two premier luxury brands, Cadillac, a division of General Motors Corp., and Lincoln, part of Ford Motor Co. Born in Vermont, Leland worked as a machinist for the Colt firearms company before turning his mechanical skills to the budding automobile industry. He literally got in on the ground floor as an early supplier of engines for Oldsmobiles. He is credited with the development of interchangeable parts and the electric starter. He sold Cadillac to GM, and left the company in a dispute with William Durant, GM’s founder. Lincoln started during World War I to supply aircraft engines. It was converted to luxury car production when the war ended. The company faltered and was bought out of insolvency by Ford. A bit of trivia: Leland also invented the electric barber clippers.

42: Roger Penske, businessman and motor racing czar (1937-present) 

Roger Penske

Roger Penske is the very definition of a mogul. Holdings of the billionaire businessman include Bloomfield Hills-based Penske Automotive Group, Penske Truck Leasing, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He is most famous, however, for his success in auto racing. Penske began  by racing Porches, and in 1961 was named driver of the year by the Sports Car Club of America. He retired as a driver in 1965 to start an auto dealership, and a year later formed his own racing team. Penske is known as the king of auto racing, dominating both the IndyCar and NASCAR series. His drivers have posted more than 500 victories on the track, including 19 Indy 500 wins. Detroit has benefited from Penske’s philanthropy and civic engagement. He headed the effort to bring the Super Bowl to Detroit in 2006, backed the construction of the QLine and this year brought the roar of Indy cars back to the streets of downtown Detroit. In 2019, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

43: Mary Barra, current CEO of General Motors (1961-present)

General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra: $28.97 million

The first woman to lead one of the Big Three automakers has deep roots with the company she now helms. Barra, born in Royal Oak, started working at General Motors as a co-op student in 1980, when she was 18 years old. Barra attended the General Motors Institute (now Kettering University) and then worked her way up the ranks, taking on a number of leadership roles — including plant manager of the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly, vice president of human resources, and leading the global product development division — before she was named CEO in 2014. As top executive, Barra has led the company back from its 2011 bankruptcy to record profits and is now pointing the way to an all-electric future. Barra will be named to the Automotive Hall of Fame this month.

44: Gordie Howe, hockey legend (1928-2016)

Detroit Red Wings' Gordie Howe (left) in action against New York -Tony Leswick (down) Chuck Royner (NY goalie), Bill Quackenburk (Boston) and Jack Stewart (Chicago) October 1950.

The man who would come to be known as “Mr. Hockey” was born in Saskatchewan and began playing hockey when he was eight years old. He made his National Hockey League debut with the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 16, 1946. He would play with Detroit for the next 25 seasons. In his lengthy and legendary career, Howe was a winner of four Stanley Cups, six scoring titles and six MVPs and ranks third in NHL history with 1,850 points, including 801 goals and 1,049 assists. In 1980, at the age of 52, Howe became the oldest player in NHL history, and the only to play across the span of five decades. In 2015, the Prime Minister of Canada along with the Governor of Michigan announced that the publicly owned bridge between Windsor and Detroit would be named the Gordie Howe International Bridge, honoring the pride Howe inspired on both sides of the river.

45: Robert Griffin, senator from Michigan, state Supreme Court justice (1923-2015)

In this Nov. 2, 1978 file photo, U.S. Sen. Robert Griffin, left, greets President Jimmy Carter in Flint.

Robert Griffin, a Detroit native, enlisted as an Army infantryman during World War II and served 14 months in the European theater. The Central Michigan University graduate got his law degree from the University of Michigan and began practicing in Traverse City. Griffin was elected to the U.S. House in 1956 from the state’s 9th District, defeating Republican incumbent Ruth Thompson in the GOP primary. Griffin supported both the Civil RIghts Act and the Voting Rights Act. He was appointed to the Senate in 1966 upon the death of Sen. Patrick McNamara. Griffin was an author of the Landrum-Griffin Act, governing the internal affairs of labor unions. He led the filibuster of Supreme Court nominee Abe Fortas, and in 1974 called for the resignation of his friend, President Richard Nixon. After losing his seat to Carl Levin in 1978, he served as a justice of the Michigan Supreme Court.

46: Gretchen Whitmer, current governor of Michigan (1971 to present)

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaks during a ribbon cutting ceremony for the reopening of the Book Tower, in Detroit, June 8, 2023.

Halfway through Gretchen Whitmer’s first term as governor, the state was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Whitmer joined other governors in declaring a state of emergency and imposing broad shutdowns on Michigan businesses and residents. She set health care reform and a promise to “fix the damn roads” as her first term priorities. She was elected to a second term in 2022 by a large margin, running on a strong pro-choice platform. The Democrat served in the Michigan House from 2001 to 2006 and the Michigan Senate from 2006 to 2015, when she was term-limited out. Whitmer was the first woman to serve as Democratic leader of the Senate. In 2020 her name was floated as a potential running mate for President Joe Biden.

47: William Milliken, Michigan’s longest serving governor (1922-2019)

Governor William Milliken holds a press conference to announce his retirement from public office, Dec. 12, 1981.

William Milliken served three full terms and one partial term as governor from 1969 to 1983, making him the longest serving governor in state history. He served one term in the Michigan Senate from Traverse City before being tapped by Republican Gov. George Romney to be his lieutenant governor. When Romney resigned in 1969 to become HUD secretary, Millien took over as governor.

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