The origin of the Ohio-Michigan rivalry

An error in placing the borders between Ohio and Michigan created an area of land known as the Toledo Strip. The states disagreed over who should be allowed the land, resulting in the Toledo War.

Courtousy of Wikipedia/Drpw

An error in placing the borders between Ohio and Michigan created an area of land known as the Toledo Strip. The states disagreed over who should be allowed the land, resulting in the Toledo War.

Ryan Yoo, Director of Design

The University of Michigan-Ohio State University football rivalry is often considered to be one of the biggest (and the most heated) rivalries in American football history. Since their first game in 1897, the two teams have met 115 times on the football field, most recently on Nov. 24, 2018 when the Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the Michigan Wolverines 62-39.

This rivalry can be traced back to the Toledo War in 1835-36, which was fought between the states of Michigan and Ohio. The states were in disagreement over the location of the Michigan-Ohio border. Although the war did not result in any casualties, the war laid the foundations for years of bitter disputes and angry exchanges between fans of the scarlet and grey and the maize and blue.

In 1787, Congress drafted the Northwest Ordinance, which decreed that the 260,000 square miles around the Great Lakes would be divided into new states. The Northwest Ordinance described the border between Ohio and Michigan to be “an east and west line drawn through the southerly bend or extreme of Lake Michigan” until it intersects with Lake Erie.

Congress used the Mitchell Map (which was considered to be the most accurate map of the region at the time) to draw this border. The Mitchell Map, however, put the southern tip of Lake Michigan five to eight miles north of the actual tip of the lake.

This caused the Toledo area to be part of Ohio, which was, and remains to be, an important agricultural and industrial region. The land west of Toledo is a prime area for agriculture due to its well-drained and fertile soil, and it is where staple crops like corn and wheat are grown. Additionally, the Erie Canal was built during the time period, linking the area to the Eastern seaboard and New York City to the Midwest. This allowed the area to become a major shipping and migration route.

In 1803, the government discovered the inaccuracy in the location of the tip of Lake Michigan. The dispute heated up in 1833, when Michigan sought entrance to the Union, citing the Northwest Ordinance to determine the correct boundary between the two states. When the boundaries where drawn on the map, an overlap was discovered due to the previous mistake. The area in the overlap was labeled the Toledo Strip.

Ohio lobbied to block the entrance to the Union until they agreed on the border set by Ohio, which placed the Toledo Strip in Ohio. Naturally, Michigan objected. Congress, fed up with this dispute, decided to block Michigan’s entrance into the Union until the two states figured out the borders, putting the residents of the Toledo Strip in a state of limbo for a couple of decades.

In order to enrage Michigan, Ohio formed Lucas County, which included a portion of the Toledo Strip. In response, Michigan enacted the Pains and Penalties Act in February 1835, which declared that anyone in the strip that supported Ohio could be jailed for up to five years and fined $1,000 (roughly $25,000 today).

A cold war soon erupted between the two states, with each trying to one-up the other. Soon after the Ohio legislature voted to approve a $300,000 military budget, Michigan approved a $315,000 military budget. No actual fighting occurred between the two states, except for a small scuffle which lead to a Michigan sheriff being stabbed.

Although the sheriff’s wound was not fatal, the attack led to peace talks between the two states and troops were withdrawn from the area. Despite this, the two states continued to bicker until December 1836 when Congress offered them a compromise. Michigan could give up the Toledo Strip to Ohio in exchange for statehood and a chunk of the Upper Peninsula. Michigan had spent so much money maintaining the presence of militia in the strip that the state had no choice but to accept.

Even a hundred years after the war, Ohioans and Michiganders still have a fierce rivalry. But instead of fighting about the borders between states, it’s about showing superiority on the football field.