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The Fight For Michigan's Upper Peninsula: A Story About Soda And State Borders


Now for a story about soda and state borders. It begins with a Mountain Dew marketing campaign...


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Welcome to the land of those who do.

SHAPIRO: ...With a pretty routine setup...


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: 50 states, 50 bottles - collect them all...

SHAPIRO: ...A unique bottle label for each state - except there was one problem - a problem with Mountain Dew's U.S. map. NPR's Kat Lonsdorf and Sam Gringlas pick up the story.

SAM GRINGLAS, BYLINE: The map was wrong.

KAT LONSDORF, BYLINE: And anybody from the Midwest, at least, could see it, like me. I'm from Wisconsin.

GRINGLAS: And I'm from Michigan.

LONSDORF: The map gave Michigan's Upper Peninsula to Wisconsin, which is great. We'll happily take it.

GRINGLAS: Hang on. This mix-up struck a nerve, especially with people who live in the Upper Peninsula. They're called Yoopers.

LONSDORF: And it was actually a Twitter account called the Upper Peninsula that brought this to our attention.

BUGSY SAILOR: Dear Mountain Dew, I am not Wisconsin. Fix this, or send a free case to all my residents - your call. Sincerely, America's peninsula.

GRINGLAS: That's Yooper Bugsy Sailor. He helps run the account, and that tweet took off.

SAILOR: That was the tweet heard round the Midwest.

LONSDORF: People in Wisconsin chimed in, welcoming the Yoopers with open arms. They offered deep-fried cheese curds and Wisconsin beer. I mean, Wisconsin has an actual land border with the peninsula - Michigan, not a mile.

GRINGLAS: OK. We have a bridge.

LONSDORF: Anyway, all of this got us wondering, how did Michigan get the Upper Peninsula in the first place?

GRINGLAS: Well, I made a call.


MICHAEL MYER: Good afternoon, Ironwood Area Historical Society.

GRINGLAS: Ironwood is almost as far west as you can go in Michigan - right on the Upper Peninsula's border with Wisconsin.

MYER: The weather is great. It's not raining, and it's not snowing.

GRINGLAS: That's Michael Myer, and he knew all about the Mountain Dew debacle.

MYER: It's been a very popular topic of conversation up here.

LONSDORF: OK, so what'd you learn?

GRINGLAS: Well, we've got to go back to the 1830s. Michigan was trying to become a state, and there was a debate with Ohio over where to mark the southern border.

MYER: And that brought about the - what's called the Toledo War.


GRINGLAS: Well, not quite.

MYER: It wasn't much of a war. The only person who really got hurt was a sheriff who got stabbed.

GRINGLAS: Basically, both states wanted to claim this strip of land that included Toledo, but Michigan lost, obviously. Toledo is in Ohio now.

MYER: And in exchange, this whole chunk of land in the - what would have been the Wisconsin territory was adapted to the state of Michigan.

LONSDORF: Wait. So the Upper Peninsula was a consolation prize from the federal government?

GRINGLAS: Pretty much, but it turned out to be a good one - tons of iron, copper. Plus, it's beautiful.

MYER: This land up here has, over the years, brought in a lot of the mystique of what makes Michigan Michigan.

LONSDORF: Well, that's nice, but I made a call, too.


LONSDORF: And it turns out Michigan's border disputes didn't stop there.


LONSDORF: Hi, is this Julie?


LONSDORF: Julie Morello is a volunteer with another historical society, right across the border from the guy you called up, in a little town called Hurley, Wis.

MORELLO: People always say, you sound like a Yooper. And it's like, yeah, I do. I mean, we talk funny.

LONSDORF: And Julie told me that the border between Michigan and Wisconsin was in limbo for decades after it was set.

MORELLO: Depending on who you talk to, a lot of folks will say, well, the Michigan surveyors - when they surveyed the border, they were drunk at the time.

GRINGLAS: Wait. Drunk?

LONSDORF: OK. Let me explain. Those Michigan surveyors followed the wrong river when they laid the border between Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula after the Toledo war.

MORELLO: It was messy.

LONSDORF: They accidentally gave Wisconsin way more land than they should have, but it didn't really come up for decades until Michigan figured out how much that strip of land was worth.

MORELLO: They were pulling tons and tons of iron ore out of it. Michigan wanted that wealth.

GRINGLAS: So what happened?

LONSDORF: Well, the U.S. Supreme Court got involved, and they ruled in 1926 that Wisconsin could keep that land. The people living there had been Wisconsinites for generations.

MORELLO: I think it would've been pretty catastrophic all of a sudden for people living in Wisconsin to suddenly be living in Michigan.

GRINGLAS: Which brings us back to the modern-day border dispute - the one on the pop bottle...

LONSDORF: That's soda for the rest of you.

GRINGLAS: ...Where Mountain Dew tried to put a bunch of people living in Michigan suddenly in Wisconsin.

Here's Bugsy Sailor from the Upper Peninsula Twitter account.

SAILOR: We don't want to let it slide. This place exists, and it's a magical place. And we're proud of it.

LONSDORF: And now, Mountain Dew sees that, too. They've apologized and agreed to design a label just for the Upper Peninsula.

GRINGLAS: Of Michigan.

LONSDORF: I'm Kat Lonsdorf.

GRINGLAS: And I'm Sam Gringlas, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sam Gringlas
Sam Gringlas is a journalist at NPR's All Things Considered. In 2020, he helped cover the presidential election with NPR's Washington Desk and has also reported for NPR's business desk covering the workforce. He's produced and reported with NPR from across the country, as well as China and Mexico, covering topics like politics, trade, the environment, immigration and breaking news. He started as an intern at All Things Considered after graduating with a public policy degree from the University of Michigan, where he was the managing news editor at The Michigan Daily. He's a native Michigander.
Kat Lonsdorf
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