Featured on The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation: Season 7
26 artifacts in this set
The Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" was the U.S. Army's primary training aircraft in the World War I era. After the war, surplus Jennys formed the core of America's barnstorming fleet. The JN-4D variation employed a control stick rather than the wheel used in the standard version. The JN-4D originally was built for the Canadian market, explaining its "Canuck" nickname.
Core memory is an early form of computer memory. Small rings of magnetic material strung on a wire grid were programmed to represent a binary "one" or "zero." Core planes were individually woven (typically by women) under a microscope. It was the standard form of computer memory from 1955-1975, until displaced by the integrated circuit, which could be mass produced.
In the 1870s, Mary Florence Potts made ironing easier. Conventional single-piece, cast iron flatirons were heated on stoves -- and the handle got hot! Mrs. Potts invented and patented a detachable wood handle that stayed cool and could be switched between her irons. The irons also featured two pointed ends that allowed users to work in either direction. Mrs. Potts' irons remained popular into the 20th century.
In the late 1930s, Ruth Wakefield "invented" the chocolate chip cookie. She chopped up a Nestle's semisweet chocolate bar and added the pieces to her sweet cookie batter. The cookies were hugely popular, leading Nestle to score its chocolate bar and include a small chopper for easy cutting. Soon, Nestle began mass producing morsels. The Toll House recipe was included on every package.
When Edison moved to Menlo Park, New Jersey, in spring of 1876 the laboratory building contained his entire operation -- a handful of collaborators, office, library, and machine shop as well as laboratory. As the scale of Edison's investigations grew so did the complex, but this building -- dedicated to experimental activities -- was always understood to be the heart of the enterprise.
Longer than a Duesenberg. Twice the horsepower of a Rolls-Royce. More costly than both put together. The Bugatti Royale was the ultimate automobile, making its owners feel like kings. Not only did it do everything on a grander scale than the world's other great luxury cars, it was also rare. Bugatti built only six Royales, whereas there were 481 Model J Duesenbergs and 1,767 Phantom II Rolls-Royces.
Gear and lever voting machines were the quintessential method of voting for two generations of Americans, from the 1920s through the 1980s. These high tech devices tabulated votes mechanically. Considered scientific and reliable, they were relatively tamper proof and allowed for completely secret balloting. However, they were complicated devices that required constant maintenance and could contribute to undercounting.
Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) is one of the greatest figures in the history of electrical power and telecommunications. His alternating current induction motor and pioneering work with polyphase electricity were fundamental to the development of today's electric power grid systems. This death mask, made of electroplated copper, was created at the request of Hugo Gernsback -- a publisher, writer, and friend of Tesla.
Lorenzo L. Langstroth devised the most enduring beehive innovation with his 1852 patent for an “Improved Mode of Constructing Beehives.” Careful observation of bee behavior proved to him that frames had to be separated by 3/8th of an inch within the hive and between the frames and hive walls to allow space for bees to function. His discovery revolutionized beekeeping.
The Bell 302 phone, designed by Henry Dreyfuss, was recognized in its day (like the iPhone now) as a design landmark. One of the earliest telephones to incorporate the handset, dial, and bells into a compact integrated unit, its understatement, ease of use, and reliability helped assert industrial design as a discipline rooted in practicality, accessibility, and problem-solving.
Blue boxes allowed people to make free, illegal, long-distance phone calls. They mimicked the same 2600hz "switching" tone used by telephone operators to connect people, tricking automated systems. In the 1960s, notorious "phone phreakers" infiltrated the telephone network; their actions were comparable to modern-day hackers. Built by Steve Wozniak, this box predates Apple Computer Inc. by four years.
This "circuit bent" instrument is made from an iconic Speak n' Spell educational toy. Circuit benders salvage cheap battery-powered electronics from second-hand stores, open their covers, and make permanent short circuits with jumper wires. Billy Prosise transformed this device in ways that the original manufacturer never intended, allowing sounds to loop, unpredictably glitch, and distort.
Federal oversight of air traffic control began in 1938, but radar technology -- greatly improved during World War II -- was not widely implemented until the late 1950s. This computer-integrated radar scope, used at Detroit Metro Airport from 1970 to 2001, was one of the first units capable of displaying an airplane's identification number and altitude directly on the screen.
In the late nineteenth century, this small shoe shop located in Newton, New Hampshire, was part of a larger factory system. The owner, Will Currier, received cut leather pieces from a factory in nearby Haverhill, Massachusetts. He and two workmen sewed these pieces together to create a finished shoe. The three could make about sixty-five pairs of shoes a day.
After their 1901 glider didn't perform as expected, Wilbur and Orville Wright modified a bicycle to test the data used to shape their wings. Riding the bike generated a breeze that simulated the air pressure against a wing in flight. Although this St. Clair bicycle was built by the Wrights, it is not the actual bike used in their experiments.
Wilbur and Orville Wright operated their bicycle business in this building from 1897 to 1908 in Dayton, Ohio. The brothers sold and repaired bikes, and they even produced models under their own brands. It was also in this shop that the Wright brothers built their earliest flying machines, including the 1903 Flyer that became the first successful heavier-than-air, powered, controlled aircraft.
This dragon weathervane is one of the most vivid elements of Sir John Bennett's shop in Greenfield Village. Made of hammered copper in striking detail, it is a quiet masterpiece of design, craftsmanship, and balance. During restoration work in 2005, The Henry Ford staff made structural repairs and returned the dragon to its original splendor with a coat of gold leaf.
The Smiths Creek Depot stood on the Grand Trunk Western Railway, about ten miles southwest of Port Huron, Michigan. The railroad station was the center of 19th century small-town life. More than a place to catch a train, the depot was where customers sent and received packages and telegrams, caught up on the latest news, and shared gossip.
Factory-built buggies made the pleasures of carriage ownership affordable for a new group of people. Whether in town or on the farm, people loved these inexpensive, lightweight vehicles. The piano box buggy -- named for its resemblance to 19th-century square pianos -- was the most popular of all. Buggy owners quickly became accustomed to the freedom and control offered by personal vehicles.
Silly Putty bounces, stretches and can be molded into different shapes. This elastic, synthetic substance was a failed attempt by a General Electric chemical engineer to find a substitute for rubber during World War II. After the war, however, it became a classic toy. Millions of children and adults have enjoyed this "real solid liquid" since it was first sold in 1950.
Lawns require regular maintenance. First patented in the United States in 1868, cylinder- or reel-type mowers became an enduring, affordable option for anyone with a small lawn. The basic form consisted of blades that rotated around a horizontal axis, cutting the grass as the user pushed the machine. This model featured a roller attachment to even lawn surfaces (for example, smoothing mole runs) as it mowed.