Hamtramck was originally settled by German farmers, but Polish immigrants flooded into the area when the Dodge Brothers plant opened in 1914. Poles still make up a large proportion of the population. It is sometimes confused with Poletown, a traditional Polish neighborhood which lies mostly in the city of Detroit and includes a small part of Hamtramck. As of the 2000 census, over 26% of Hamtramck population is of Polish origin.
Hamtramck flourished from 1910 to 1920 as thousands of European immigrants, particularly German and Polish, were attracted by the growing automobile industry. The city has grown increasingly ethnically diverse but still bears many reminders of its Polish ancestry in family names, street names and businesses. A recent survey found 26 native languages spoken by Hamtramck schoolchildren. The city's motto is "A League of Nations".
Hamtramck’s Polish heritage brought Pope John Paul II to the city in 1987 and a monument to the first Polish leader of the Roman Catholic Church stands in a downtown park. Among the city’s other religious masterpieces are the 1928 St. Florian Roman Catholic Church, designed by Ralph Adams Cram, America’s premier Gothic Revival architect in the early 1900s.
Among the traditions that hold Polish Hamtramck together today is Pączki Day, on ‘Fat Tuesday’. Folks from all over metro Detroit line up at the city’s Polish bakeries to purchase anywhere from one to dozens of pączki. On Pączki Day, local bars host live entertainment bands and musicians.
Other Polish-centered traditions include St. Florian’s Strawberry Festival, held annually in the first weekend in May at grounds at St. Florian Church.
Over Labor Day weekend, the Hamtramck Labor Day Festival is held, ending with the Polish Day Parade on Labor Day. Live music on three stages, carnival area, beer, and food tents line a half mile stretch of Jos. Campau from Caniff to Carpenter.
In 1997, the Utne Reader named Hamtramck one of "the 15 hippest neighborhoods in the U.S. and Canada" in part for its punk and alternative music scene, its Buddhist temple, its cultural diversity, and its laid back blue-collar neighborhoods. And in May of 2003, Maxim Blender selected Hamtramck as the second "Most Rock N' Roll City" in the U.S., behind Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NY. Hamtramck is home of several of Michigan's most distinguished music venues.