The Great Lakes

SURFACE AREA: 94,250 mi² | AVG DEPTH: 60-480 ft | MAX DEPTH: 210-1300 ft

The Great Lakes hold 84 percent of the US supply of freshwater and 21 percent of the world’s supply. They provide 48 million people with clean drinking water and support 1.5 million jobs yearly as well as fuel over $50 billion annually in economic activity from recreation alone. Your support helps protect these lakes and preserve their legacy of clean water for generations.

The Great Lakes — Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario — and their connecting channels form the largest fresh surface water system on earth. They cover more than 94,00 square miles and hold an estimated six quadrillion gallons of water.

The lakes provide the backbone for a $6 trillion regional economy that would be one of the largest in the world if it stood alone as a country. Recreation on the Great Lakes –including world-renown boating, hunting and fishing opportunities – generate more than $52 billion annually for the region.

The Great Lakes shape our region and our way of life. Healthy lakes are critical for our economy, our culture, and the environment, but they require constant care. Since 1955, the Great Lakes Commission has worked with its member states and provinces to address issues of common concern, develop shared solutions, and collectively advance an agenda to protect and enhance the region’s economic prosperity and environmental health.

Great Lakes History

The Great Lakes were formed by the movement of glaciers during the last ice age, which ended about 10,000 years ago. Native American tribes have lived in the region for thousands of years, and the Great Lakes played an important role in their cultures.

The Great Lakes have been known by that name for centuries, but they were officially recognized as the "Great Lakes" by the United States government in the late 18th century. The exact date when they were officially recognized is not clear, as the name "Great Lakes" was likely used informally for a long period of time before it was officially adopted.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, European explorers and fur traders arrived in the region, and the Great Lakes became an important route for trade and exploration. The lakes were later used for military purposes during the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. 

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Great Lakes became an important economic and industrial hub, with the development of the railroads and shipping on the lakes. Today, the Great Lakes are a popular destination for recreational activities such as boating, fishing, and swimming, and they remain an important economic resource for the region.