Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Look for the Helpers

April 6, 2020

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Red Cross Volunteer Nurse's Aides, May 1942.
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In uncertain times, it can be useful to stop and reflect on the ways in which others have overcome or responded to challenges. The passage of time can be a cushion, allowing us to use the lens of history to reach back and remember that remarkable creativity, kindness and courage have often pushed through fear in times of uncertainty.

Opportunities for compassion and ingenuity abound, even for those of us not on the front lines—be it the front lines of a hospital, of the food supply chain, or of municipal services. Perhaps your opportunity might be painting rocks to hide in your neighborhood to make a neighbor smile or sewing a mask for a health care worker. It could be putting groceries in your little library as well as books. Maybe it is inventing a vaccine or building new ventilators.

Let’s absolutely “look for the helpers,” as Mister Rogers said, but let’s also look for the makers, the inventors, the doers, the innovators—past and present—and be inspired to become more like them too.

helpers-communityEncouragement from sidewalk chalk and painted rocks in a Michigan neighborhood.

THF Resources

The Henry Ford's Blog: Uncovering Medical Innovations in the Collection
New surgical techniques and motorized medical care are just a few of the ingenious responses to medical demands featured in this blog post.

The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation: UpSee Walking Device
When Debby Elnatan’s son was unable to walk due to cerebral palsy, she invented a walking device to help him and other children with the disorder. In this clip from The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, she explains, “I believe there is no such thing as special needs, that we all have the same needs. What’s special are the solutions.”

The Henry Ford's Blog: A Technological Assist
Today, assistive devices and technology are increasingly common, but this wasn’t always the case. Empathetic design and inventiveness were required to create devices which allowed people like Shari, introduced in this blog post, to wake up on time, watch television, or chat with a friend.

Katherine White is an Associate Curator at The Henry Ford.

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"Fixing Cars, a Peoples Primer," 1974. THF103464

The concept of resourceful living is nothing new. Many people have been reducing, reusing and recycling for years. But now that we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic, it seems that “conspicuous consumption” is out and “conscious conservation” is in.


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"How to Fix Your Bicycle". THF206623

As we all learn to make do in our new world of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, here’s a look at how Americans have practiced resourceful living in the past. Whether it’s fixing the family car yourself, being proactive in your family’s health and well-being, or simply taking advantage of your extra at-home time to finally get organized, you’ll find much to inspire you in the collections of The Henry Ford.

In the Garage
The Railroad Roundhouse
“Fixing Cars, a People's Primer”
FIXD Car Diagnostic Sensor (as seen on The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation
“Anybody’s Bike Book”
“How to Fix Your Bicycle”
“A Rough Guide to Bicycle Maintenance”

Improvisation & Fixing Things
Whole Earth Catalogs
Quilt Maker Susana Hunter
Susana Hunter (as seen on The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation)

Revisit the Break, Repair, Repeat: Spontaneous & Improvised Design exhibit, on view Summer 2019
Video Tour of the Exhibit
Expert Set (Highlight Artifacts from the Exhibit)
Press Coverage by The Detroit News

Staying Healthy & Keeping Germs at Bay
Phone Soap (as seen on The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation)
Anti-Germ Sponge (as seen on The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation)
Historic Soap and Household Detergent Packaging
Braniff International Airways Bar Soap
For Health, Food and Fun Keep a Garden

An Organized Workspace
Julia Child’s Kitchen
Overhead Drawing of Julia Child's Kitchen
L. Miller & Son Store Displays of Hardware
Hoosier-Style Kitchen Cabinet
Handy Helper Utility Cabinet

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Did you find this content useful? Consider making a gift to The Henry Ford.

Home Entertainment

March 30, 2020
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Portrait of Young Girl with Hoop and Stick, 1868-1870. THF226622


The challenges posed by COVID-19 have inspired us to figure out new ways of working — and also of playing. Our entertainment is now focused on what can be enjoyed in and around our homes.

The past century saw an explosion of entertainment choices to enjoy in our leisure time, and plenty of these remain accessible to help lift spirits and put smiles on our faces. Favorite music, movies and television shows are at our fingertips. Video and board games can be enjoyed. Craft projects await. Reading material surrounds us —found online, downloaded on tablets or discovered on our own bookshelves. Weather permitting, outdoor activities like walking, riding a bicycle or even barbecuing remain accessible — all while maintaining social distancing, of course!

Right now, for many, there is little physical or mental separation between work and leisure. Taking time to savor leisure activities while remaining at home helps renew energy and focus. There are so many ways to stay engaged. Enjoy!

Perhaps the close quarters many of us are currently experiencing may even inspire more face-to-face communication, creativity — and play.

Home Media Entertainment
Sesame Street 50th Anniversary
The Real Toys of Toy Story
Is That from Star Trek?
Star Wars: A Force to Be Reckoned With
Immersit Game Movement (as seen on The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation)
Travel Television with Samantha Brown's Passport to Great Weekends"
A TV Tour of the White House" with Jacqueline Kennedy

Edison Kinetoscope with Kinetophone
Allan McGrew and Family Reading and Listening to Radio

Staying Busy with Games
Games and Puzzles
Board Games
McLoughlin Brothers: Color Printing Pioneers
Playing Cards
Girl with Hoop and Stick
Alphabet Blocks and Spelling Toys
CBS Sunday Morning with Mo Rocca: Piecing together the history of jigsaw puzzles

Crafting at Home
Leatherworking Kit
Paragon Needlecraft American Glory Quilt Kit
Carte de Visite of Woman Knitting

Video Games
History of Video Games (as seen on The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation)
Player Up: Video Game History
Unearthing the Atari Tomb: How E.T. Found a Home at The Henry Ford

Reading for Pleasure
Comic Books Under Attack
Commercializing the Comics: The Contributions of Richard Outcault
The "Peanuts" Gang: From Comic Strip to Popular Culture
It All Started with a Book: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Woman Reading a Book
John Burroughs in His Study

Staying Engaged & Family Activities
Partio Cart Used by Dwight Eisenhower
Connect 3: Guided Creativity

Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.

Did you find this content of value? Consider making a gift to The Henry Ford.

We Are Innovation Nation

March 29, 2020
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To help parents, students and educators during these times of uncertainty, The Henry Ford is unleashing its educational tools for people everywhere. While our venues are temporarily closed, access to our digital learning content is wide open. To help you connect with these tools and resources, we’re launching an Innovation Learning Virtual Series starting Monday, March 30. It will highlight our digital learning resources for all ages, including live engagement and hands-on activities.

Look for a new blog post every Friday to check out the theme and virtual experiences planned for the coming week and to find a spotlight on one of our resources. These 20- to 30-minute virtual experiences will take place every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

We believe innovation can be something completely new, but it also can be a significant improvement to an existing product, process or service. To be innovative, the contribution must address a true need and change the way we behave.

Drawing on the authentic objects and real-life stories we have collected, our Model i Innovation Learning Framework provides an interdisciplinary approach to learning based on the Habits of an Innovator and Actions of Innovation. These habits and actions come together, expressing any unique innovation journey. This framework underpins every innovation learning resource that we will showcase in the coming weeks.

What’s Coming Up Next Week?
The theme for the week of March 30 is MOBILITY. How do you get to where you’re going?

STEAMStorytime
Monday, March 30 at 10 a.m.
Pre-K-Grade 2
Join us as we read How Trains Work and learn how to access a lesson from our early childhood curriculum,Innovate for Tots that includes a lesson plan, activities, reading lists and coloring pages of The Henry Ford's artifacts.

Registration Link: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_ha6Vus7nQ8uz-gvqEHJTmA

Innovation Journeys Live!
Wednesday, April 1 at 1 p.m.
Grades 3-12
Ever wondered how our Allegheny Steam Locomotive came to be? Hear and see the story unfold in a live innovation journey.Practice making your own journey using the Model i Primer activity.

Registration Link:https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_BPY_gTGnRwuLh25Gqib_QQ

Supportive Resources
"What if a Locomotive Powered by Fire and Water Could Haul More Freight Than Ever Before?"
1884 Locomotive Roundhouse and 1941 Allegheny

Kid InventorDay
Friday, April 3 at Noon
All Ages
Hear from kid inventor Ariana as she discusses her face mask invention. Then explore some Invention Convention Curriculum activities to keep your child innovating.

Registration Link:https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_eHUdp6t1S4Si4wqBY84oPw

Resource Spotlight: Model i Primer
This week’s resource spotlight focuses on our Model i Primer, a facilitator’s guide that introduces the Actions of Innovation and Habits of an Innovator through fun, learn-by-doing activities that are easily implemented at home. You can download the free Model i Primer here.

How do I use the Primer?
Page 4: Begin by discussing what innovation means with your children. What everyday household objects could you change or adapt?

Page 5: Show your children the Model i framework, and talk about the Actions of Innovation and Habits of an Innovator. What do they mean? Which ones do they already use? Which ones do they want to work on? Work together to learn and practice them — consider documenting your progress in an innovation journey.

Page 6: Send your kids on a digital scavenger hunt. How many items can they find? Are they inspired by any of the innovators’ stories they found? Why?

Pages 9-10: Get inspired by reading the innovation journey of the Wright brothers, and then create your own. Have your children ever invented something? Solved a problem? Have them grab some markers and paper to draw their own journeys.

Check out the links to The Henry Ford’s digital collections and resources that are embedded in the primer, including digitized artifactsInnovation Nation video clips and stories written by our expert curators

Feel free to share your experience and follow others as they engage in our digital learning opportunities using the hashtag #WeAreInnovationNation.

Did you find these resources of value? Consider making a donation to The Henry Ford.

thf288950Members of the Woman's National Farm and Garden Association, 1918. THF288950

Most Americans rely on grocery stores today. Few remember the time when there was constant demand on people to produce and preserve the grain, vegetables and meat they needed to feed themselves.

Over the last few weeks, self-isolation and social distancing have brought into sharp focus the need to plan for your next meal. Do you do it yourself, heading to your cellar to extract the last potatoes or turnips from the bins, or lift the lid off the sauerkraut crock, or pull down a cured ham from the rafters? Probably not. Do you head to the local market or the grocery store and stock up on fresh supplies to see you through for a few days? Or do you dig into the back of your cupboard and pull out a boxed mix or canned goods.

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There’s never been a greater time to be resourceful than now. Last week, we donated food from The Henry Ford’s restaurants and cafeteria to Forgotten Harvest to help support our community after our campus closed this month because of COVID-19.

Looking for inspiration to be resourceful in your kitchen? We've dipped into resources and stories from The Henry Ford's collections to try to help. Explore the differences between home cooking and food resourcefulness today and in the past — from farm fresh and family raised to preserved and prepackaged. These digital resources will help you find inspiration whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner. Sort through recipe books, dig out that potato — is it a Burbank?! — and season with that essential preservative, salt, reflect and enjoy.

What are you doing in your kitchens right now to make the most of what’s in your cabinets? Share your examples of resourcefulness by tagging your photos and ideas with #WeAreInnovationNation.

Resilient Foods, Resourceful People
Women and the Land: Agricultural Organizations of WWI
Freedom from Want
Mattox Home

Staples
A Versatile Ingredient (Salt)
What If A Potato Could Change the World of Agriculture?
Summer Staples: Tomato and Corn
Eggs
Eggs (as seen on The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation)
Historic Recipe Bank
Bread & Biscuits

Preservation & Processing Foods
Henry J. Heinz: His Recipe for Success
Canning
Refrigerators
Fresh Paper (as seen on The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation)

Supply Chains
Horse-Drawn Deliveries
Lunch Wagons: The Business of Mobile Food
Tri-Motor Flying Grocery Store

Alternative Eating & Home Cooking
Farmbot
Food Huggers (as seen on The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation)

Individual Artifacts
Swanson Frozen Dinners, 1967
Waffle Iron
Victory Gardens
Macaroni
Bean Pot

Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment. Did you find this content useful? Consider making a gift to The Henry Ford.

thf274746Model Wearing Walking Office Wearable Computer Prototype, circa 1984. THF274746

On March 13, 2020 The Henry Ford made the unprecedented decision to temporarily close to the public to help slow the spread of COVID-19. With Historical Resources staff transitioning into working from home, we are continuing to develop new digital content and drawing together thematic groups of material relevant to our world today.

Like many office workers around the world now working remotely, museum staff working off-site have carved out space wherever they can: taking over living rooms and spare bedrooms, repurposing kitchen tables and setting up cozy basement nooks. We, like many others, are figuring out our new ways of working while simultaneously adjusting to social distancing, cooking healthy meals at home, juggling child care and negotiating with confused dogs demanding walks.

In this new and unexpected reality of #MuseumFromHome, we are grateful for the digital tools (and telephones!) that have allowed us to stay connected with our collections and our colleagues.

It won't come as a surprise that our curators have been thinking this week about the links between our artifacts and the concept of telecommuting. And so we are sharing the following content — drawn primarily from our incredible well of online resources — that is focused on resourceful inventions and behaviors related to long-distance communication.

From the transatlantic cable and a prototype for an intriguing object called "The Walking Office" to the stories of community built by ham radio operators — and one story about the evolution of the office desk for good measure — we hope these stories and resources bring you a little joy and many learning opportunities during these difficult times. 

Personal Computing
"A Decade of Personal Computing" Expert Set
"Booting Up: The Rise of the PC" (Externally Hosted Content on Google Arts & Culture)  

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AirTouch Pager, circa 1995

Fax Tech
Fax Qwip
Finch Fax
Crosley Reado Fax

Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communication & Information Technology at The Henry Ford.

2020 Detroit Autorama

March 4, 2020

With the North American International Auto Show now moved to June, we’ve had an unusually long dry spell in the Motor City when it comes to automotive exhibitions. The drought was finally broken by the annual Detroit Autorama, held February 28-March 1. Always a major show, this year’s edition was no exception with more than 800 hot rods and custom cars spread over two levels of the TCF Center.

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Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s “Outlaw,” honored as one of the 20th Century’s most significant hot rods.

The most memorable display this year was immodestly (but quite accurately) labeled “The Most Significant Hot Rods of the 20th Century.” It was a veritable who’s who of iconic iron featuring tributes to Bob McGee’s ’32 Ford, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s  “Outlaw” and “Beatnik Bandit,” Tommy Ivo’s ’25 T-Bucket, and Norm Grabowski’s ’22 T-Bucket – the last immortalized as Kookie Kookson’s ginchy ride in the TV show 77 Sunset Strip.

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“Impressive” indeed. The 1963 Chevy wagon that won this year’s Ridler Award. (The chrome on those wheels practically glows!)

The biggest excitement always surrounds the Ridler Award, named for Autorama’s first promoter, Don Ridler. It’s the event’s top prize, and only cars that have never been shown publicly before are eligible. Judges select their “Great 8” – the eight finalists – on Friday and, for the rest of the weekend, excitement builds until the winner is revealed at the Sunday afternoon awards ceremony. The winner receives $10,000 and the distinction of having her or his name engraved forever on the trophy. It’s among the highest honors in the hot rod and custom car hobby. This year’s prize went to “Impressive,” a 1963 Chevrolet two-door station wagon built by a father-son-grandson team from Minnesota. With a Ridler now to its credit, no one can question the car’s name again.

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Replica race cars – a Ford GT40 and a Ferrari 330 P3 used in the 2019 film
Ford v Ferrari.

There’s always a little Hollywood magic on the show floor somewhere, and this year it came from a pair of replica cars used in two big racing scenes in the hit 2019 movie Ford v Ferrari. From the 1966 Daytona 24-Hour was the #95 Ford GT40 Mk. II driven by Walt Hansgen and Mark Donohue. From the 1966 Le Mans 24-Hour was the #20 Ferrari 330 P3 driven by Ludovico Scarfiotti and Mike Parkes. How accurate were the copy cars? Judge for yourself by looking here and here.

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The Michigan Midget Racing Association introduces kids to the excitement of auto racing.

Those who are worried about younger generations not being interested in cars could take comfort from the Michigan Midget Racing Association. The organization’s Autorama display featured a half dozen cars that kids could (and did) climb into for photos. Quarter Midget cars are sized for kids anywhere from 5 to 16 years old. And while they look cute, these race cars aren’t toys. Their single-cylinder engines move the cars along at speeds up to 45 miles per hour. M.M.R.A.’s oval track in Clarkston is surfaced with asphalt and approximately 1/20 of a mile long.

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Our 2020 Past Forward Award winner – a 1964 Pontiac GTO that matured with its owner.

Each year, The Henry Ford proudly presents its own trophy at Autorama. Our Past Forward Award honors a vehicle that combines inspirations of the past with innovative technologies of the present. It exhibits the highest craftsmanship and has a great story behind it. This year’s winner put a novel spin on the “Past Forward” concept. It’s a 1964 Pontiac GTO owned by Fred Moler of Sterling Heights, Michigan. Fred bought the car while he was in college and, appropriately for someone at that young age, drove it hard and fast. When adult responsibilities came along, he tucked the Goat away in a barn. Some 40 years later, Moler pulled the car out of the barn for restoration. He wanted to relive his college days but knew that neither he nor the GTO were the same as they were decades ago. Moler kept the trademark 389 V-8 but replaced the drivetrain with a more sedate unit. He added air conditioning, improved the sound system, and ever so slightly tinted the glass. In his own words, Moler enhanced the car to make it comfortable for his “more mature” self. He brought a piece of his own past forward to suit his present-day wants and needs. Like I said, a great story.

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Autorama’s oldest entry – an 1894 horse-drawn road grader.

Autorama veterans know that the grittiest cars are found on TCF Center’s lower level – the infamous domain known as Autorama Extreme. Here you’ll find the Rat Rods that take pride in their raw, unabashedly unattractive appearance. By all means, take the escalator downstairs. There are always gems among the rats. This year I was thrilled to find an 1894 horse-drawn road grader manufactured by the F.C. Austin Company of Chicago. Utilitarian vehicles like this are rare survivors from our pre-automobile age. Autorama Extreme is a great place to tap your feet as well. Live music fills the lower level throughout the weekend – lots of 1950s rockabilly, of course, but plenty of blues and soul too.

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Don’t miss Toy-a-Rama with its assortment of vintage car books and brochures.

Each year, I make a point of visiting Toy-a-Rama at the back of TCF Center. Vendors sell hundreds of plastic model kits, diecast models, memorabilia, and toys. But it’s the great selection of auto-related books, magazines, and vintage sales literature that always reels me in – and leaves my wallet a little lighter on the way out.

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A beautiful 1:1 scale model of “Uncertain-T” – some assembly required.


And speaking of model kits, maybe the coolest thing I saw all weekend was down in Autorama Extreme. It was a beautifully crafted, partially-assembled model of Steve Scott’s “Uncertain-T” just like Monogram used to make – but this one was life-sized. Really, the giant sprue was terrific enough, but the giant hobby knife and glue tube took the whole thing to the next level. (Skill Level 2, as the box might’ve said.)

All in all, another great year celebrating the wildest, weirdest, and winningest custom cars and hot rods around. If you’ve never been, make sure you don’t miss Autorama in 2021.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

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Mary Blair was the artist for this hand-pulled silkscreen print, used in a guest room at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Walt Disney World, 1973 to early 1990s. THF181161

When Disney’s Contemporary Resort opened at Walt Disney World in 1971—coinciding with the opening of Magic Kingdom—guests almost immediately complained about their rooms. The rooms seemed cold and hard. They lacked personality. Guests couldn’t even figure out how to operate the new-fangled recessed lighting. So, within two years, the rooms were refurbished with new textiles, fabrics, traditional lamps, and high-quality prints of Mary Blair’s original design. These prints were adapted from the individual scenes of a massive tile mural that she had created for the Contemporary Resort’s central atrium. The hand-pulled silk-screened prints, framed and hung on the walls over the beds, brought much-needed warmth, color, and a sense of playful exuberance to the rooms. More importantly—but probably unbeknownst to most guests—they reinforced Mary Blair’s deep, longstanding connection to Disney parks, attractions, and films that ultimately dated back to a personal friendship with Walt Disney himself.

Mary Blair was born Mary Browne Robinson in 1911 in rural Oklahoma. She developed a love of art early in her childhood and went on to major in fine arts at San Jose State College. She won a prestigious scholarship to the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles (which later became the California Institute of the Arts) and studied under the tutelage of Chouinard’s director of illustration, Pruett Carter. Carter was one of the era’s most accomplished magazine illustrators and stressed the importance of human drama, empathy, and theatre in illustration. Mary later recalled that he was her greatest influence.

By the late 1930s, Mary and her husband, fellow artist Lee Blair, were unable to survive off the sales of their fine art and began to work in Los Angeles’s animation industry. In 1941, both were working at Disney and had the opportunity to travel with Walt Disney and a group of Disney Studio artists to South America to paint as part of a government-sponsored goodwill trip. While on this trip, Mary grew into her own as an artist and found the bold and colorful style for which she would be known.

Mary Blair became one of Walt Disney’s favored artists, appreciated for her vibrant and imaginative style. She recalled, “Walt said that I knew about colors he had never heard of.” In her career at Disney, she created concept art and color styling for many films, including Dumbo (1941), Saludos Amigos (1942), Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), and Peter Pan (1953). She left Disney after her work on Peter Pan to pursue freelance commercial illustration, but returned when Walt Disney specifically requested her help to create the “it’s a small world” attraction for the 1964-5 New York World’s Fair (later brought back to Disneyland and also recreated in Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World).

Before Walt Disney passed away in 1966, he commissioned Mary to produce multiple large-scale murals, including the one for the interior of the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World in Florida. The mural, completed in 1971, was her last work with Disney. Entitled “The Pueblo Village,” it featured 18,000 hand-painted, fire-glazed, one-foot-square ceramic tiles celebrating Southwest American Indian culture, prehistoric rock pictographs, and the Grand Canyon. (Because Mary’s depictions of Native Americans admittedly lack attention to the serious study of indigenous people in that region, they might be criticized as racial stereotyping).

When the guest rooms at the Contemporary Resort were renovated again in the early 1990s, the high-quality prints were removed. But the massive tile mural stoically remains at the center of the Resort’s ten-story atrium—a reminder of Mary Blair’s exuberant artistry and her many contributions to Disney parks and films.

For more on Mary Blair’s contributions, along with the previously unrecognized contributions of numerous other female artists who worked on Disney films, see the book The Queens of Animation: The Untold Story of the Women Who Transformed the World of Disney and Made Cinematic History, by Nathalia Holt (2019).

This blog post was a collaborative effort by Donna Braden, Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford, and Katherine White, Associate Curator at The Henry Ford.

Disney, Mary Blair

A Matter of Emphasis

February 26, 2020

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A new group of garments from The Henry Ford’s rich collection of clothing and accessories makes its debut in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in our What We Wore exhibit, this time examining how fashion trends can highlight, or manipulate, the human form.

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Dress and Pelerine, 1830-1835

(Purchased with funds from the Eleanor B. Safford Memorial Textile Fund)


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What makes these sleeves puffy?
A stiffened underlining--pleated muslin fabric--helps support the sleeves. Sometimes a “sleeve plumper” was used--down-filled pads that tied on at the shoulder under the dress.

The wide silhouette created by these “leg-of-mutton” sleeves and matching pelerine (small cape that covers the shoulders) not only drew attention to the wearer’s arms, but also emphasized the smallness of her waist!

Who wore this dress?
During the 1830s? We don’t know. Later, Tasha Tudor (1915-2008), author and illustrator of children’s literature, owned the dress.

Tudor admired the objects and rural lifestyle of the early 19th century. She lived in a secluded New England farmhouse with no plumbing or electricity, surrounded by an orchard, rambling garden, and lively farm animals. Tasha Tudor also collected antique clothing--and wore it.

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Dress, 1884-1885
(
Gift of Ruth W. Crouse)

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What supported the elaborately draped fabric at the back of this dress?
A bustle--a support of parallel horizontal slats made of wood or steel bent in a half circle. The bustle attached to the body around the waist. A tightly laced corset helped create her extremely small waist.

But how did she sit down? The slats would all collapse together as she sat, then spring back in place when she stood up--maintaining her fashionable silhouette.Between the fabric of the dress and the bustle, garments of this period could be quite heavy to wear!

Who wore this dress?
Mary Stevens (1861-1910), the daughter of wealthy capitalist. The Stevens family lived on Woodward Avenue in Detroit, a street lined with the homes of prosperous Detroiters.

Mary Stevens had a privileged lifestyle. She had the money to purchase finely made fashionable clothing. And led a social life that gave her opportunities to wear it. A few days before Christmas 1884, Mary’s mother gave an elegant reception at the Stevens home--complete with elaborate floral decorations, refreshments, and a full orchestra. Could this be the dress that Mary wore that afternoon?

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Dress, 1927-1929
(Gift of Audrey K. Wilder)

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What undergarment helped achieve this slender, youthful silhouette?
A straight-line, one-piece garment called a corselette. It de-emphasized the bust and smoothed the natural curves of the body--emphasizing the straight, unbroken line of that era’s “boyish” silhouette.

The movement of the uneven hemline, while walking or dancing, would subtly call attention to the wearer’s legs.

Who wore this dress?
Audrey K. Wilder (1896-1979) likely owned this dress.  Audrey attended college--quite unusual for women of her time. She graduated from Albion College, then earned a master’s degree from Columbia University in 1921.

In the late 1920s, Audrey Wilder was appointed Dean of Women at Ohio Northern University. One of her first projects was the creation of the first social hall for women on campus--a place where female students could hold teas, receptions, musicals, and dinners. Those who knew her described Audrey as a “dynamic dean” and a woman “of exquisite grooming.”

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Cocktail Dress by Christian Dior, 1952
(Gift of Mrs. Harvey Firestone, Jr.)

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What undergarment helped create the “hourglass” silhouette of the 1950s?
Christian Dior’s “New Look”--with its close-fitting hourglass silhouette--dominated the 1950s. This look emphasized a tiny waistline and feminine curves. Longline bras helped slim the waistline and create a smooth line under garments.

This dress, Dior’s “Sonnet” design, also accentuated the waist through the angled side bodice seams, bows at the waist, and rounded skirt.

Who wore this dress?
This dress was custom-made for Elizabeth Parke Firestone (1897-1990), wife of tire magnate Harvey S. Firestone, Jr. Elizabeth felt it her duty to represent her husband, family, and the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company with dignity and grace. She was always flawlessly dressed--whether for informal camping trips, world travel, business functions, or society parties.

Elizabeth had a fine eye for fashion and favored New York and Parisian designers, including Christian Dior. These designers created garments to her specifications, including perfect fit, style, color, fabric, and construction. During the 1950s the New York Dress Institute named Elizabeth one of the "Best Dressed Women in the World.”

Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.

Boomboxes at The Henry Ford

February 25, 2020

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An image from the set of
The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation.

For many people—especially those who grew up between the decades of the 1970s through the 1990s—the sight of a boombox often prompts the thought: “I wonder how heavy that thing would feel, if I carried it around on my shoulder?” Boomboxes are infused with the promise of human interaction, ready for active use—to be slung from arm to arm, hoisted up on a shoulder, or planted with purpose on a park bench or an empty slice of asphalt in a city somewhere.

Here at The Henry Ford, we recently acquired a trio of classic boomboxes to document stories about the growth of mobile media and the social communication of music in American culture.

The Norelco 22RL962 was developed in the mid-1960s by the Dutch company, Philips. A combination radio and compact cassette player, it had recording and playback functions as well as a carrying handle. While it was generally thought of as the first device that could be accurately called a “boombox,” the Norelco failed to gain mass traction. The core issue wasn’t due to poor performance from a technological standpoint, but rather the bad sound quality of the tapes. In 1965, the American engineer Ray Dolby invented the Dolby Noise Reduction system, which led to clean,
hiss-free sound on compact cassette tapes. His invention sparked a revolution in hi-fi cassette audio.

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The ubiquitous compact cassette tape.

In the early 1970s, Japanese manufacturers began to make advancements in boombox technology as an outgrowth of modular hi-fi stereo components. Living spaces in Japan were typically small, and there was a desire to condense electronics into compact devices without losing sound quality.

Later that decade, the improved boombox made its way to the United States, where it was embraced by hip hop, punk, and new wave musicians and fans—many of whom lived in large cities like New York and Los Angeles. In many ways, the boombox was a protest device, as youth culture used them to broadcast politically charged music in public spaces.

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An early image of the Brooklyn Bridge and New York Skyline. THF113708

Boomboxes literally changed the sonic fabric of cities, but this effect was divisive. By the mid-1980s, noise pollution laws began to restrict their use in public. The golden years of the boombox were also short lived due to the rising popularity and affordability of personal portable sound devices like the Sony Walkman (and later, the MP3 player), which turned music into a private, insular experience.

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The JVC RC-550 ”El Diablo” boombox. THF179795

JVC RC-550 “El Diablo”

This boombox was built for the street, and it is meant to be played loud. Its design is rugged, with a carrying handle and protective “roll bars” in case it is dropped. Many classic photos from the early years of hip-hop depict fans and musicians carrying the El Diablo around cities and on the subway in New York.

The JVC RC-550 is a member of what sound historians refer to as the “holy trinity” of innovative boomboxes. While the origins of its “El Diablo” nickname are uncertain, it is believed to stem from the impressive volume of sound it can transmit—or its flashing red sound meters. It is a monophonic boombox, meaning that it has one main speaker and it is incapable of reproducing sound in stereo. A massive offset 10-inch woofer dominates its design, coupled with smaller midrange and tweeter speakers. As with most boomboxes of this time, bass and treble levels could be adjusted.

An input for an external microphone led to the RC-550 being advertised as a mobile personal amplifier system. Brochures from the Japanese version show the boombox being used by salesmen to amplify their pitches in front of crowds, as a sound system in a bar, and by a singing woman accompanied by a guitarist. Recording could take place directly through the tape deck, or through the microphone on top, which could be rotated 360-degrees.

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JVC 838 Biophonic Boombox. THF177384

JVC 838 Biphonic Boombox
The JVC 838 is important for its transitional design. It was one of the first boomboxes to incorporate the symmetrical arrangement of components that would become standard in 1980s portable stereos: visually balanced speakers, buttons and knobs, and a centered cassette deck.

As boombox designs evolved, they began to include (almost to the point of parody) sound visualization components such as VU meters and other electronic indicators. In many cases, these were purely for visual effect rather than function. The needle VU meters on the JVC 838 however, were accurate.

A unique feature of the JVC 838 boombox is its “BiPhonic” sound—a spatial stereo feature that creates a “being there” effect through its binaural speaker technology, resulting in “three-dimensional depth, spaciousness, and pinpoint imaging.” The box also includes an “expand” effect to widen the sound even further.

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Sharp GF-777 “Searcher.” THF177382

Sharp “Searcher” GF-777
The Sharp “Searcher” GF-777 is an exercise in excess. Often referred to as the “king of the boomboxes,” it was also one of the largest ever produced. Weighing thirty pounds (minus ten D-cell batteries) and measuring over one foot tall and two feet wide, it took a certain amount of lifestyle commitment to carry this device around a city.

The Searcher played a key part in the performance and representation of hip-hop music. Its six speakers include four woofers individually tuned for optimal bass transmission and amplitude. It appeared in a photograph on the back cover of the first Run-DMC album, found its way into several music videos, and was photographed alongside breakdancing crews. 

Many people used this boombox as an affordable personal recording studio. Two high quality tape decks opened the possibility for people to create “pause tapes” – a way of creating looped beats through queuing, recording, rewinding, and repeating a short phrase of music. A microphone input and an onboard echo effect meant people could rap or sing over top of music backing tracks.

Much like Thomas Edison’s phonograph, the boombox came full circle, allowing people to record and play back music for public and communal consumption. And while they may not mesh with our ideas of what a “mobile” device is in our age of smartphones and streaming services, their reach permeated popular culture in the 1970s well into the 1990s. Sometimes acting as portable sound systems, sometimes used as affordable personal recording studios—carrying a boombox through the streets (wherever you happened to live) was as much a fashion statement and lifestyle choice as it was a celebration of music and social technology.

Kristen Gallerneaux is the Curator of Communications and Information Technology.

Innovation Nation, Boombox