Numerous Indian tribes occupied the Grand River Valley including the Hopewell Indians, known for their large burial mounds, and the Ottawa Indians, who traded fur pelts for European metal and textile goods when the British and French arrived in the area. The first permanent settler in Grand Rapids was a Baptist minister named Issac McCoy. The most important settler, however, was Louis Campau, who bought what is now the entire downtown business district from the federal government for $90. The city was incorporated in April 1850 and Grand Rapids quickly became renowned for its budding furniture industry.
Even today, Grand Rapids is considered a world leader in the production of office furniture, although the city is economically diverse and also has industrial machinery, metal, food, paper, plastics, printing products and information technology industries. In fact, Entrepreneur magazine recently named Grand Rapids one of the "Best Cities for Entrepreneurs." Some of the major employers in Grand Rapids include Meijer Inc, Spectrum Health Hospital, General Motors Corporation and two leading companies in office furniture production, Steelcase, Inc. and Herman Miller, Inc.
Companies can draw from a strong educational system. Approximately 30,000 students in grades K-12 are represented by the Grand Rapids School District. More than 12 colleges and universities offer degree programs, among them is Grand Valley State University, which is expanding its downtown campus.
Greater Grand Rapids is a paradise for outdoor recreation. The city's proximity to beautiful Lake Michigan, with its white-sand beaches, is conducive to boating, sailing, fishing and camping. Michigan also has the most public golf courses in the nation and Grand Rapids boasts the highest percentage of golfers per capita in the U.S. Armchair athletes embrace the fierce competition of professional sports by supporting Griffins Hockey and the West Michigan Whitecaps Class A minor league baseball.
The soul of Grand Rapids is apparent in the rich diversity of its museums, theater, annual ethnic festivals and numerous cultural venues. Each year, citywide ethnic and arts festivals celebrate the heritage of the city's ethnically diverse population from the Hispanic, African-American and Italian food and cultural events to German Oktoberfest and Polish Pulaski Days. The Grand Rapids Symphony, Ballet, Jewish Theater, Civic Theater and the Broadway Theatre Guild are popular cultural destinations. Other area highlights include the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, Gerald R. Ford Museum, the Public Museum of Grand Rapids, John Ball Zoo and the Blandford Nature Center.