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June 1996


Invoice: Indianapolis Chain and Stamping Co., Indianapolis, IN.
Bill for bicycle chain purchase by Henry Ford from Accession #1,
The Fair Lane Papers.
Date: 5/28/1896

What's significant about a bicycle chain?

Seven days after this purchase from the Indianapolis Chain and Stamping Co., Henry Ford would make automobile history by driving his first car, the quadricycle, down the streets of Detroit. Scholars believe that this is the chain Ford used to propel his first automobile. Ford had been working every night in the last days of May, 1896 to complete his vision.

Under a warm rain, between the hours of 2 and 4 a.m. on June 4, 1896, he was ready. Ironically, in his enthusiasm Ford neglected to notice that the vehicle was too wide for the doors to his Bagley Avenue shop, so he promptly broke a hole through the wall and pushed the quadricycle into the alley. He then drove the car onto Grand River Avenue and headed towards Washington Boulevard. The vehicle had no brakes and no reverse gear, and actually broke down in front of the Cadillac hotel, but Ford at last had created his own self-propelled horseless vehicle.

Invoice reads:

1 1/2 x 120 Bright
6 1/2 Bolts + Nuts
10 ft. at 25c a ft. $2.50
C.O.D. .35

About the Fair Lane Papers

Henry Ford (1863-1947) and Clara Bryant Ford (1866-1950), after their marriage in 1888, lived in a succession of fourteen homes beginning with the tiny "Moir House" near the old Ford homestead and ending with the fifty-six room mansion "Fair Lane" built on the shores of the Rouge River. Constructed in 1915, Fair Lane was the official residence of the Fords until Clara died in 1950.

After her death, a survey of the mansion uncovered a stunning wealth of papers, housed in almost every available desk, bureau drawer, cupboard, and closet. The materials documented every aspect of the Fords private, public, and business lives, stretching back to the Fords honeymoon years in the Moir House.

The Fords saved every type of document regardless of its importance. Materials documenting the operations of the estate coexisted with turn-of-the-century grocery bills and department store receipts. Menus and recipes were found with the records of multi-million dollar donations by the Ford Foundation. A significant amount of Ford Motor Company materials, probably brought to the mansion for Henry Ford's attention, were also retrieved. In all, about seven hundred fifty feet of printed material was found in the mansion, as well as a significant number of photographs, maps, and blueprints. The Fair Lane Papers elucidate the long and varied lives of two of America's preeminent citizens in the first half of the twentieth century.

For more information about the Fair Lane Papers or Henry Ford's Quadricycle, please contact the Research Center.


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