Celebrating 90 -- Collecting through the Decades: Beginnings and 1920s
12 artifacts in this set
By the end of 1929, Henry Ford's Greenfield Village had a number of historic structures, and the construction of the museum building that would house his collection neared completion. Ford had accumulated objects of ordinary people, items connected with his heroes and his own past, and examples of industrial progress -- but this was only the beginning.
It began with the Quadricycle. Ford Motor Company, the Model T, The Henry Ford--none of it would have happened if Henry Ford hadn't finished this little car in June 1896. He sold it a few months later for $200--money he used to build his second car. In 1904, with Ford Motor Company blooming, Henry paid $65 to buy the Quadricycle back--a significant acquisition documenting Ford's own life and achievements. -Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation
In 1919, Henry Ford learned that his birthplace was at risk because of a road improvement project. He took charge--moving the farmhouse and restoring it to the way he remembered it from the time of his mother's death in 1876, when he was 13. He and his assistants combed the countryside for original furnishings or similar items. The house was later moved to Greenfield Village.
America's musical traditions held personal meaning for Henry Ford. In 1928, Ford purchased Daniel S. Pillsbury's extraordinary collection of 175 early band instruments. This 1837 keyed bugle from the collection had belonged to Ned Kendall--keyed bugle virtuoso and leader of the Boston Brass Band. During the 19th century, community bands provided much of the music enjoyed by everyday Americans. -Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life
Henry Ford drew on personal and professional connections to build his extensive museum collection. Following a conversation with Ford, photography pioneer George Eastman donated a group of significant cameras that included this one: an example of Eastman's first "Kodak" camera (the first designed for roll film), which revolutionized popular photography. -Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content
Henry Ford also relied on antique dealers to ferret out "firsts" like this mowing machine, patented by Enoch Ambler on Dec 23, 1834. Felix Roulet convinced Ford of the machine’s merits by quoting U.S. Department of Agriculture literature. Roulet assured Ford that "this machine will be a gem in Mr Fords [sic] collection." The machine arrived at Ford Motor Company in November 1924. -Debra Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment
Rocking Chair Used by Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theater the Night of His Assassination, April 14, 1865
Henry Ford made one of the most significant purchases for the collections in 1929. President Abraham Lincoln--one of Henry Ford's heroes--was sitting in this rocking chair during a production of Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC when he was assassinated on April 14, 1865. When the chair came up for sale, Ford bought it. Today, the chair remains one of the most revered objects associated with the "man who saved the Union."
The re-creation of the Menlo Park Compound was another important achievement for Henry Ford. Salvage work began on what was left of Menlo Park in the late 1920s. Original bits of historic buildings came together with other re-created buildings to bring Menlo Park to life. On October 21, 1929, the project received Thomas Edison's stamp of approval. -Jim Johnson, Director, Greenfield Village and Curator, Historic Structures & Landscapes
Paper Horseshoe Filament Lamp Used at New Year's Eve Demonstration of the Edison Lighting System, 1879
While working at Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park complex, electrical engineer William Joseph Hammer collected the incandescent lamps they were developing. Among his collection is this lamp from New Year’s Eve, 1879, when Edison first publicly displayed his electric light. In 1929, a group of Edison’s former employees known as the Edison Pioneers donated Hammer's collection to Henry Ford's new museum. -Ryan Jelso, Associate Curator, Digital Content
This brief letter from a 23-year-old Thomas Edison to his parents is a part of a much larger collection acquired in 1929 through a gift from the Edison Pioneers. The letter reflects Henry Ford’s many efforts to honor his friend and lifelong hero, which included the naming of his new museum and village complex The Edison Institute of Technology. -Brian Wilson, Senior Manager Archives and Library, Benson Ford Research Center
In 1928, Henry Ford became interested in the estate of the late Josephine Caspari of Detroit. The wealthy heiress had married a Spanish riding master but divorced him after discovering that he had married another. The divorce was the talk of the town. Ms. Caspari became a recluse. When her estate was sold, Henry Ford bought many items, including this platform rocker made by George Hunzinger. -Katherine White, Associate Curator, Digital Content
This lamp expresses the collecting philosophy that Henry Ford and his staff were using in developing the lighting collection. They were seeking to acquire examples documenting the changes in lighting technology that led to the introduction of the electric light bulb in 1879. This Argand lamp was one the first oil lamps that created a flame burning brighter than a single candle. -Charles Sable, Curator of Decorative Arts