Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Auto Shows

June 15, 2018 Think THF
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National Automobile Show Official Program, 1956. THF206474

A big city auto show is a magical place. Automakers turn heads and grab headlines with futuristic concept cars and the latest production models. Suppliers and aftermarket vendors mount elaborate displays promoting everything from gearboxes to floor mats. For the public, it’s a chance to do some serious research on that next big car purchase, or to simply dream while gazing at sports cars, luxury sedans and special edition trucks.

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Program, "70th Annual Chicago Auto Show," February 25 through March 5, 1978. THF108058


Auto shows are part trade show and part show business, but they’ve been a part of the automotive industry from the beginning. We’ve put together a new Expert Set featuring programs and posters drawn from the past century. See how much has changed – and how much hasn’t – in selling the American automobile.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Concept Cars

June 13, 2018 Think THF
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Topps "World on Wheels" Series Collecting Card, circa 1951 General Motors Le Sabre Experimental Car, circa 1954. THF207260

Nothing stirs the imagination like a concept car. These dream vehicles offer a tantalizing glimpse into the future with dramatic styling features and sophisticated technologies that may (or may not) be right around the corner for us everyday drivers. Most concept cars never make it into regular production, though two notable examples – the Chevrolet Corvette and the Dodge Viper – did make the leap from fantasy to reality. (Sadly, my favorite concept car – the 1986 Corvette Indy – did not.)

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Concept cars are, by nature, ephemeral things. Once they’ve toured enough auto shows and generated enough buzz, they often get scrapped. One, the 1955 Lincoln Futura, went on to even greater glory after it was rebuilt into the Batmobile for the 1966-68 Batman television series. Other lucky vehicles found homes in museums.

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The Henry Ford has several concept cars in its collection, ranging from the sheltering Cornell-Liberty Safety Car to the shimmering Chrysler Turbine. We’ve pulled together cars, models and promotional materials in a new Expert Set celebrating these fantastic dream machines. Take a look and wish away!

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

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Button – “Kennedy for President in ‘68.” THF157665


The primaries were well underway when Robert F. (Bobby) Kennedy decided to enter the race for the Democratic presidential nomination on March 16, 1968. Public opinions were polarized about his decision. Some were thankful that Bobby was honoring the memory of his brother John, slain five years earlier and still being mourned. Others appreciated the effort but thought he had dragged his feet too long. Still others felt that he was not Presidential material.

Bobby’s immediate popularity was undeniable—especially with voters who were economically disadvantaged, African-American, Hispanic, Catholic, and young. Before long, he was dominating the Democratic race, winning primary after primary.

Then, on June 5, soon after defeating Eugene McCarthy in the California Democratic primary, Bobby Kennedy was shot and mortally wounded by Sirhan Sirhan at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He died the next day. In a testament to his impact on people from all walks of life, thousands of mourners lined the railroad tracks on June 8 to watch his funeral train pass from New York to Washington, D.C.

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Button, In Memory of a Great American. THF Z0050531

According to American journalist and political commentator Chris Matthews in his 2017 book Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit, the memory of Bobby Kennedy endures not only because it is filled with grand “what ifs” but also because he “stood for the desire to right wrongs that greatly mattered then and which continue to matter every bit as much in the 21st century—in fact, now more than ever.”

Recently, The Henry Ford acquired a collection of published materials from donors Mike and Darlene Cook that commemorated the life and legacy of Robert Kennedy. Michael Cook had been deeply affected by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, then shocked by the successive assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy in 1968. In collecting these materials at the time they were published, he was trying to come to terms with the questions, “What was happening in our country?  How could these assassination attempts happen in our country?” 

These questions still perplex us today.

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Fan. THF 46467

Materials from this donation can be found blow.

Donna R. Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

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Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation is a place of wonder and inspiration, and this past March and April, it was my privilege to work with staff behind the scenes. My name is Jamison Van Andel, and I am an 11th-grade student at Henry Ford Academy. As part of the school’s curriculum, students are expected to complete a six-week internship with a local organization. While searching for an internship placement, I contacted The Henry Ford in hopes that a curator would be willing to work with me. A history aficionado, I had fallen in love with The Henry Ford and was overwhelmingly curious about the work that goes into a curator’s day-to-day experience.

Dr. Kristen Gallerneaux, Curator of Communication and Information Technology, responded with a project. The Mathematica exhibit, a recent addition to the museum floor, was in need of some background research to improve its representation of diverse mathematicians. I was thrilled to tackle the challenge.

Going into my first week of work, I imagined that curators worked in secluded offices, reading and researching various subjects individually. In actuality, curatorial research is a highly collaborative process. As I met several curators, it became clear that they all bounce ideas off each other as they conduct research.

As I completed more and more research, Dr. Gallerneaux introduced me to the art of writing narratives-- capsules of information about an object or topic, in 60 words or less. A delicate exercise, narrative writing requires the author to communicate lots of information on in a terse, but erudite fashion. I found this was especially difficult when I had spent a great deal of time with a subject, because every discovery of my research seemed incredibly meaningful in my eyes.

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I’m quite fond of the following narrative, largely because Artur Avila was a fun character to research, but also due to the fact that I believe I was able to capture the cultural significance of his achievements as well as their mathematical implications:

Along with his easygoing persona, Artur Avila is known for his remarkable ability to clarify very complex material. Avila, a Fields Medalist in 2014, holds citizenship in both his native Brazil and France. He has become an ambassador for Brazilian mathematicians, working in the dynamical systems field that analyzes the correlation between time and geometrical position of a point.

Later, I composed a narrative about the International Mathematical Olympiad after noting that several of the mathematicians I researched had participated in it. This was an entertaining exercise for me, as many of the Olympiad competitors are close to my own age. Curators often face the challenge of making subjects compelling for all museum guests, and it helps to have several connection points within an exhibit that pertain to different groups. In this case, a narrative about teenage mathematicians might serve as common ground with current-day students.  

The International Mathematical Olympiad is the premier contest for high school mathematicians. Held yearly in different countries, the Olympiad invites six-person teams from over 100 countries to participate. Each student individually constructs answers to six problems, with content ranging from complicated algebra to number theory. Winners may receive a gold, silver, or bronze medal as well as an honorable mention.

Besides the research and narrative writing, I was able to attend several curatorial meetings. One particular gathering, a Collections Committee meeting, was especially entertaining. Twice a month, the curatorial team meets to determine what artifacts are to be added to the collection. Humorous, engaging, and thought-provoking, the meeting was the epitome of curatorial work at The Henry Ford. I left with a concrete idea of the qualities an artifact must have in order to fit into a museum’s mission.

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After compiling a portfolio of 20 narratives, I arranged them in a digital platform that serves as a prototype for a future digital project that will support the interpretation of the Mathematica exhibit. The capstone project of my internship, it presents the narratives in an interactive way for guests to experience, similar to many of the digital resources currently on the museum floor. For now, the finished narratives will be stored in the museum’s database for future implementation, with the eventual goal that guests will be able to interact with this information.

An absolutely unforgettable experience, the internship gave me an extensive, behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of a world-class museum. The intentionality with which everything was done was remarkable to someone who often only sees the finished product. It was an honor to work beside the masterminds responsible for making The Henry Ford the wonderful, inspirational place that it is.

Jamison Van Andel is an 11th Grade student at Henry Ford Academy.

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The Logan County Courthouse, a fixture on the Village Green in Greenfield Village, will has reached the milestone of having been here in Dearborn for as many years as it was in Postville, Illinois - 89 years.

Abraham Lincoln featured prominently in Henry Ford’s plans for Greenfield Village, which revolved around the story of how everyday people with humble beginnings would go on to play important roles in American history. Lincoln epitomized Ford’s view of the “self-made man,” and he made a significant effort to collect as many objects as possible associated with him. By the late 1920s, Henry Ford was a “later comer” to the Lincoln collecting world, but with significant resources at his disposal, he did manage to secure a few very important items. The Logan County Courthouse is among them.

It has taken nearly all the 89 years to achieve this, but an original feature, long absent from the courtroom is making a return. The bar now stands again. Using the original set of spindles, we have re-created our interpretation of what the rail, or the bar, that divided the courtroom may have looked like in the1840s. By referencing images of other early 19th century courtrooms, and studying architectural features represented in Greenfield Village, a typical design was created. 

The stories associated with the Logan County Courthouse are fascinating. As it turns out, the story of how the original spindles from the original bar finally made their way back into the courthouse is fascinating as well.  

Authenticated objects, related to Lincoln’s early life, were especially scarce by the late 1920s. There seemed to be an abundance of items supposedly associated and attributed to Lincoln, especially split rails and things made from them, but very few of these were the real thing. For Ford, the idea of acquiring an actual building directly tied to Lincoln seemed unlikely.

But, by the summer of 1929, through a local connection, Ford was made aware that the old 1840 Postville/ Logan County, Illinois courthouse, where Lincoln practiced law, was available for sale. The 89-year-old building was used as a rented private dwelling, and was in very run-down condition, described by some as “derelict.” It was owned by the elderly Judge Timothy Beach and his wife. They were fully aware of the building’s storied history, and had made several unsuccessful attempts to turn the historic building over to Logan County in return for taking over the care of the building. Seeing no other options, the Beaches agreed to the sale of the building to Ford via one of his agents. They initially seemed unaware of Ford’s intentions to move the building to Greenfield Village, assuming it was to be restored on-site much like another historic properties Ford had taken over.

THF238386This image shows the state of the building when it was first seen by Henry Ford’s staff in late August of 1929. Not visible in the large shed attached to the rear of the building. THF238386

The local newspaper, The Courier, even quoted Mrs. Beach as stating that, “she would refund to Mr. Ford if it was his plan to take the building away from Lincoln, as nothing was said by the agent about removal”. By late August of 1929, the entire project in West Lincoln, Illinois, had captured the national spotlight and the old courthouse suddenly had garnered a huge amount of attention, even becoming a tourist destination. By early September, local resistance to its removal was growing, and Ford felt the need to pay a visit to personally inspect the building and meet with local officials, and the Beaches. He clearly made his case with the owners and finalized the deal. As reported, “Ford sympathized with the sentiment of the community but thought that the citizens should look at the matter from a broader viewpoint. He spoke for the cooperation of the community with him in making a perpetual memorial for the town at Dearborn, where the world would witness it. My only desire is to square my own conscience with what I think will be for the greatest good to the greatest number of people."

Henry had made his case and the courthouse would indeed be leaving West Lincoln. Immediately following the final negotiations, Henry Ford’s crew arrived to begin the process of study, dismantling, and packing for the trip to Dearborn. Local resistance to the move continued as the final paperwork was filed to purchase the land. By September 11, the resistance had run its course and the dismantling process began. It was also revealed that the city, county, several local organizations, and even the state of Illinois had all been offered several opportunities to acquire the building and take actions to preserve it. They all had declined the various offers over the years. It was then understood that Judge & Mrs. Beach, in the end, had acted on what was best for the historic building and should not be “subjected to criticism.” Judge Beach would die on September 19, just as the last bits of the old courthouse were being loaded for their journey to Greenfield Village. 

Reconstruction, which included the fabrication of many of the first-floor details and a new stone chimney and fireplaces, began immediately. In roughly a month’s time, the building was ready for the grand opening of Greenfield Village on October 21, 1929.

Nine years later, in 1938, Eugene Amberg sent a letter to Ford describing an interesting discovery. Mr. Amberg was a native of what was now Lincoln, Illinois and worked as a railroad ticket agent. He had a great interest in the local history and was a collector of local artifacts. As he writes in the letter dated February 8, 1938:

Several years ago, you purchased the Old Postville Court House here in Lincoln, Ills from Mrs. T Beach. At the time the Court House was made into a dwelling the railing that separated the judges desk from the main court room was torn out by my father (John Amberg) who was doing the remodeling, this he stored in the attic of his home, recently my mother died and while cleaning out the attic we came across these spindles, which are the original 28 spindles that the hand railing rested upon. The hand railing was of walnut, out of which was carved some arm rests that are now on some of the pews in St. Mary’s, a church here.

Would appreciate a line from you as to whether or not you would be interested in these spindles, have had numerous offers for them, inasmuch as they are part of the original court house I feel they should be with it, in your Dearborn Village.

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Dated February 7, 1938, this is the initial letter from Gene Amberg to Henry Ford offering the 28 original spindles for sale. Despite several letters back and forth, a price could not be settled upon, and the transaction never took place. THF288006

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This drawing was sent by Gene Amberg, as a follow-up to his first letter offering the spindles for sale. The artist, Mary Katherine, was Gene’s 14 year old daughter. THF288012

Negotiations evidently faltered, as a price was not agreed upon, and the spindles were never sent. Fast forward 71 years to 2009 when an email arrived from Carol Moore and her brother, Dennis Cunningham, the grandchildren of Eugene Amberg. They had no idea that their grandfather had begun this process, and were amazed when we produced the original correspondence from our archival collection. As it turns out, their story was almost identical to Eugene’s. As Carol wrote their mother, Patricia Amberg Cunningham died March 1, 2008. While cleaning her house in Delavan, Illinois to prepare for sale, we found 28 old wooden spindles and a newspaper article believed to be from the Lincoln Courier indicating that the spindles are from the original Postville Courthouse in Lincoln, Illinois. It is our desire to donate them to the original Postville Courthouse.”

She was very familiar with Greenfield Village, and had visited the courthouse here. Jim McCabe, the Buildings Curator at the time, gladly accepted the donation.

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Clipping from the Lincoln Courier ca. 1934, noting the 28 spindles from the “old Postville courthouse” in the possession of Gene Amberg. THF288016, THF288017    

In 1848, the county seat moved from Postville, to Mount Pulaski. At that time the courthouse was decommissioned, and the county offices moved to a new courthouse.  After a legal battle between the County, and the original investor/builders of the building, it was sold to Solomon Kahn. None other than Abraham Lincoln successfully represented the County in the matter.

Understanding the local history helps to also understand the changes that took place to the building. It explains how and why portions of the building were altered, parts removed, and eventually separated.

By the late 1840s, changes had taken place on both the exterior and interior. The most significant of these was the move off its original foundation, 86 feet forward on the lot. Mr. Kahn converted the building into a general store, and ran the local post office.  It was he who moved the building to its new location. In doing so, it was lifted off its original limestone foundation, and the original single limestone chimney and interior fireplaces were demolished. A new brick lined cellar and foundation were created, along with updated internal brick chimneys on each end of the building, designed to accommodate cast-iron heating stoves.

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This is the earliest known photograph of the Logan County Courthouse taken some time between 1850 and 1880. This photograph shows the building in its second location, 80 feet forward from its original foundation, at the crest of a small rise. The original window and door configuration remain intact. The original single stone chimney, now restored to the left side of the building, has been replaced by two internal brick chimneys designed for cast-iron heating stoves. Though not visible in the photograph, the building now sits on a new brick foundation and cellar. The items sitting near the doorway speak to the building’s new life as a store. THF132074

By 1880, the old courthouse had been converted from a commercial building into a private dwelling, and that was the state in which it was found by Ford’s crew in 1929.  The doorway and first floor interior had been radically changed. Later, a porch was added to the front entrance, and a shed addition was added to the rear. Photographs taken in September of 1929 during the dismantling, show the outline of the original chimney on the side of the building where it has been re-created today. Further discoveries revealed the original floor plan of a large single room on the first-floor, and the original framing for the room divisions on the second. Second floor photographs show the original wall studs, baseboards, chair rails, window, and door frames, all directly attached to the framing, with lath and plaster added after the fact. The framing of the walls on the first floor were all clearly added after the original build.

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This post 1880 view of the Logan County Courthouse shows its transformation into a two- family dwelling. Note the single doorway is now two, the second now taking the place of a former window opening. THF238350     

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This image shows further remodeling of the front of the building. This photo ca.1900 shows the addition of recessed covered porch with some decorative posts and millwork. This is the iteration in which the building was found when it was sold to Henry Ford in September of 1929. THF238348

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These three images show the re-modeled interior of what was the original courtroom, now serving as the kitchen, dining room, and parlor. These photos were taken by Henry Ford’s staff just prior to the dismantling of the building in September of 1929. THF238580 

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The sub-divided first floor courtroom. THF238600

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View of the cellar entrance under the stairway in the sub-divided courtroom. THF238598 

We have no evidence that tells us what if any interior changes Mr. Kahn may have made when he relocated the building around 1850. The earliest photograph we have of the building shows it in its new location, but except for its new brick chimneys, it retains what appears to be its original door and window configuration. We can only assume that Mr. Kahn had kept the rail in place, which may have proved useful in the building’s new configuration as a store and post office. No photographs of the original courtroom exist and extensive changes made first in 1880, and then when the building was dismantled and reconstructed in Greenfield Village, further comprised any original evidence.

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This view of the dismantled second floor shows matching trim and chair rail connected directly to the studs indicating this as the originally installed woodwork from 1840. The wall partition studs are also notched to meet the ceiling joists, showing that they are also part of the original framing configuration of the second floor. All the trim work, including the doors were made of walnut. THF285571  

Based on the evidence we do have about these changes, it is very likely that at the time of the building’s conversion into a private dwelling, around 1880, the decorative hand-turned spindles and walnut hand rail would have been salvaged as the first floor of the building was sub-divided into a duplex. As stated in the family history, the walnut top rail was re-purposed and used in St. Mary’s Catholic Church (which burned in 1976), and the spindles saved for a future project.

Analysis of the original spindles showed that they were poplar, a wood commonly used for turning and as a secondary wood in the mid-19th century. Based on what we knew, we decided to use a combination of woods for the reconstruction of the bar rail. Walnut was used for the top rail and column caps, and the remainder of was done in poplar. Though refinished in 1929, the original walnut trim throughout the building was used as a guide for the color and sheen of the final finish. Reproduction hardware, again based on the existing hardware, mainly on the second floor, was used to mount the center gate.

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Mose Nowland, conservation team volunteer at The Henry Ford, works on the design rendering for the bar. (Photo by Jim Johnson)

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Mose Nowland and other members of The Henry Ford Conservation Team with the newly installed bar. (Photo by Bill Pagel)

The design of the physical installation of the rail and gate was robust. Each of the support columns is supported within by a steel post that runs through the floor joists and into the cellar floor. With over a half million guests visiting Greenfield Village each year, we thought this important. The design also offers some degree of protection to the original spindles that are centered within the top and bottom rail. This is a permanent installation, and we wanted to be sure it would stand up to the test of time.

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Views of the newly re-created bar at the Logan County Courthouse in Greenfield Village. (Photos by Jim Johnson)

A huge thank you to Mary Fahey and Dennis Morrison for stewarding the project. Also to Mose Nowlin, our extraordinary volunteer with The Henry Ford’s Conservation Team, who lead the charge in creating the design, and produced beautifully detailed drawings. Ken Gesek, one of our Historic Buildings Carpenters, built the rail, Cuong Nguyen and Tamsen Brown, with the help of rest of THF Conservation Team, oversaw the restoration of the original spindles. Tamsen also developed the formula to match the stain and finish to the existing woodwork in the courthouse. Jason Cagle, from the Painting Staff, skillfully applied the finish. Many other people worked to move the project forward as well.

This true team effort resulted in the original spindles finally being reunited with the Logan County Courthouse after an absence of nearly 140 years.

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Logan County Courthouse as it appears today in Greenfield Village. (Photo by Jim Johnson)

Jim Johnson is Curator of Historic Structures & Landscapes and General Manager, Special Events & Creative Programs, at The Henry Ford. 

Explore more of our Logan County Courthouse artifacts in our digital collections.

Sources Cited

  • Fraker, Guy C. Lincoln’s Ladder to the Presidency: The Eighth Judicial Circuit, Carbondale, IL., Southern Illinois University Press, 2012.
  • Leigh Henson, Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Illinois, The Postville Courthouse as Private Property, http://findinglincolnillinois.com/sitemap.html
  • Lincoln’s Eight Judicial Circuit, http://www.lookingforlinocln.com/8thcircuit/
  • Logan County Courthouse Spindle Accession File, 2009.111, items 1-28, Archival Collection of the Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford.
  • Logan County Courthouse Building Files including original correspondences, records, photographs prior to dismantling in September of 1929, photographs of dismantling process, September 1929, reconstruction photographs, Greenfield Village, September 1929, 19th century photographic images, Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford.
  • The Herald, vol. 5 n.3, The Edison Institute Press, March 4, 1938.
  • Illinois, Logan County, Postville, 1840 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication, Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration
  • Illinois, Logan County, Postville, 1850 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication, Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration
  • Stringer, Lawrence B, The History of Logan County, Illinois, A Record of its Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement, Pioneer Press, Chicago, 1911.
  •  “The Story of the Purchase of the Logan County Courthouse and its Removal to Greenfield Village by Mr. Henry Ford, as told in the columns of the Lincoln Evening Courier, 8/19/29-10/21/29”, compiled by Thomas I. Starr, Aug 1931. Logan County Courthouse Building Files, Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford.

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"Partio" Cart Used by Dwight Eisenhower, circa 1960. THF151438

This upscale Partio outdoor kitchen is an eye-catching icon of America’s postwar prosperity during the Eisenhower era (1953-1961)—and was owned by none other than President Dwight D. Eisenhower himself. America enjoyed unprecedented prosperity as the economy soared to record heights. As people moved to the suburbs, they rediscovered the pleasures of outdoor cooking and eating. 

In the 1950s--after the material deprivations of a decade and a half of economic depression, and then war--Americans were ready to buy. The number of homeowners increased by 50 percent between 1945 and 1960. Americans filled their homes with consumer goods that poured out of America’s factories—including televisions, refrigerators, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, electric mixers, and outdoor grills. 

Advertising fueled their desire for materials things; credit cards made buying easier.  Newsweek magazine commented in 1953 that, “Time has swept away the Puritan conception of immorality in debt and godliness in thrift.” Even President Eisenhower suggested that the American public “Buy anything,” during a slight business dip.

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President Eisenhower used this Partio portable kitchen cart at his Palm Springs, California home. The Partio performed surface cooking (burners and griddle), oven cooking (roasting and broiling), and charcoal cooking (grilling and rotisserie).  As mentioned in the article, “The Cottage the Eisenhowers Called Home,” published in the February 1962 issue of Palm Springs Life Magazine, the Partio appears pictured with the following caption: “Chef Eisenhower shows Mamie and Mary Jean the patio barbecue cart—‘It’s the most fantastic things you ever saw.’”

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THF112534GE Partio Cart User's Manual, circa 1960. THF112534

Designed and built by General Electric, the Partio offers both a seductive glimpse of mid-century southern California outdoor living and hints at trends that become pronounced five decades later. This unit, essentially a cart-mounted range, married with a charcoal grill and rotisserie, combines a vivid 1950s turquoise palette with that decade's angular "sheer" look, forecasting styling trends of the early 1960s. The high-end Partio prefigures the lavish outdoor kitchen barbeque/range units that became popular at the end of the 20th century.  At the same time, along with the more familiar Weber charcoal grills, it speaks to an increased leisure and love of outdoor entertaining. 

Hales Photo-AHC BBQ Exhibit-1010

The Henry Ford acquired the Partio in 2012; currently the artifact is out on loan to the Atlanta History Center as part of its current exhibit, "Barbecue Nation," an exploration of the history behind one of America's greatest folk foods.

Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford. Marc Greuther is Chief Curator and Senior Director, Historical Resources, at The Henry Ford.

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Emmy Award-winning The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation with Mo Rocca is a weekly celebration of the inventor’s spirit, from historic scientific pioneers throughout past centuries to the forward-looking visionaries of today. Each episode tells the dramatic stories behind the world’s greatest inventions and the perseverance, passion and price required to bring them to life. 

The fourth season of The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation with Mo Rocca marks its 100th episode on April 28, 2018. We asked a few of the curators you've been on screen and who work hard behind the scenes to share some of their favorite memories and artifacts from the show so far. 

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One of my favorite Innovation Nation episodes to work on featured the 1964 Moog synthesizer prototype—a singular artifact that impacted the history of electronic music. I remember being on set very early in the morning with Mo and scrambling to figure out how to play “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” on our Minimoog synthesizer in time for the cameras to roll. I think it was a success, though no record deals have arrived yet!
Kristen Gallerneaux, Curator of Communication & Information Technology

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I’m so glad we opened our 1923 Canadian Pacific snowplow for the first season of Innovation Nation. Not only did it help illustrate the work required to keep a railroad operating year-round, it provided an opportunity for us to photograph the snowplow’s interior. Now everyone can share the experience through our Digital Collections!
Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content

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For me, nothing tops the segment on Henry Ford’s 1896 Quadricycle. Because we have an operating replica, Mo and I could experience the artifact in a way that’s different from simply looking at – or even touching – something. No doubt Henry had his frustrations building the original but, based on our ride, he had some fun along the way, too!

Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation

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One of my favorite moments was walking into the Lovett Hall ballroom to see Susana Hunter’s vibrant improvisational quilts spread out on the gleaming wooden floor. I had seen these quilts many times before. But in this setting, the group looked absolutely luminous—and Susana’s joyful, creative spirit shown through every quilt. 
 
Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life

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Edsel Ford and Eleanor Ford with Their Children, Henry, Benson, Josephine and William, at Gaukler Pointe, circa 1938.
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Edsel Bryant Ford was born in Detroit to Henry and Clara Ford on November 6, 1893. As their only son, Edsel seemed destined for a career at Ford Motor Company. He began working for Ford after his high school graduation in 1912 and rose through the ranks to President by age 26. Edsel spent 31 years with the organization, but his life was tragically cut short when he passed away from cancer on May 26, 1943 at just 49 years old.

While his career at Ford was extremely important to Edsel, his wife, Eleanor, and their four children – Henry, Benson, Josephine, and William – were most precious to him. During his limited leisure time he enjoyed painting and collecting art, spending time outdoors, and relaxing with his family at their home in Grosse Pointe Shores. Edsel was also a prolific philanthropist, and, 75 years after his death, exploring his extensive philanthropy is a fitting way to honor his life and legacy of good will.

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Edsel Ford at Yale-Harvard Boat Races, New London, Connecticut, 1939. THF94864

Edsel Ford is perhaps best-known for his involvement with the arts. Millions have viewed the Edsel Ford-sponsored and funded Detroit Industry murals by Diego Rivera at the Detroit Institute of Arts or visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, of which Edsel was a trustee from 1935 until 1943. Eleanor became a MoMA trustee in 1948, and the Ford Foundation (which was founded by Edsel in 1936) donated one million dollars to the museum in Edsel’s memory in 1963. He also attended many concerts at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and was a generous patron of the Detroit Symphony Society.

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Oil Portrait of Edsel Ford by Diego Rivera, 1932. THF116599

Edsel donated regularly to the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts – which is now the College for Creative Studies – and attended painting classes in the late 1920s. By 1933 the Society had altered its original mission of keeping handmade craftmanship alive in an increasingly industrialized world and was one of the first art institutions to acknowledge the automobile as an art form. In the book “Making the Modern: Industry, Art, and Design,” author Terry Smith describes this new relationship between art and industry in relation to the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts:

“Like the shift from the Model T, like the basic move within design itself, this group negotiated a passage from applying ‘art’ to industrial products (decorative devices, elaborate ornamentation) toward seeing ‘art’ in them (their ‘natural simplicity’, ‘precise’ beauty, their matching of ‘form’ and ‘function’). This implied the possibility of designing art into them, of controlling the matching so skillfully that the result would be ‘a work of art’.”

This emphasis on the intersection of art and design was also reflected in Edsel’s work at Ford. He was instrumental in moving the company beyond the Model T into a new automotive era in which both form and function were equally incorporated into the design process.

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Edsel Ford as a Child, Fishing, Lake Orion, Michigan, 1899. THF99836

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Edsel Ford, Fishing, 1915. THF130392

Another of Edsel’s lifelong passions was nature. He engaged in many outdoor hobbies, including fishing, golfing, camping, and sailing, and these interests are reflected in his philanthropy. He supported our national parks – “America’s best idea” – through his contributions to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and the nonprofit National Parks Association (now the National Parks Conservation Association). In 1931 Congress authorized the creation of Isle Royale National Park in Michigan and Edsel served on the Isle Royale National Park Commission, which managed land acquisition. After the commission acquired most of Isle Royale the land was transferred back to the National Park Service to create the park.

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State of Michigan Certificate Reappointing Edsel Ford to the Isle Royale National Park Commission, June 22, 1939. THF256194

Edsel unsurprisingly gave to Henry Ford Hospital, which was founded by his father in Detroit in 1915, but he also donated to many healthcare organizations across the United States and around the world. He contributed to the building fund of King George Hospital in London five years after King George’s son Prince Edward visited Ford Motor Company to learn more about methods of large-scale manufacturing.

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Edsel Ford, Edward Albert the Prince of Wales, and Henry Ford at Fair Lane, Dearborn, Michigan, 1924. THF116352

He gave nearly every year to the Frontier Nursing Service, which provided nurse midwifery services to women in rural Kentucky and was one of his mother’s favorite charities. In 1939 he sent the nurses a used Ford station wagon, which they christened “Henrietta”, and a second new station wagon in 1941. The American Red Cross, the American Foundation for the Blind, The Seeing Eye, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (now March of Dimes), and many other health organizations also received generous contributions from Edsel.

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Fundraising Letter from Mary Breckinridge, Frontier Nursing Service, to Edsel Ford, June 3, 1940. THF130768

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Vanda Summers of the Frontier Nursing Service, with Automobile Donated by Edsel Ford, May 1940. THF130772

This list represents a miniscule fraction of Edsel’s charitable career, and the impact of his philanthropy is still felt today through the work of the hundreds of organizations that benefitted from his time and contributions. While remembering Edsel’s career and philanthropy in his 1956 Reminiscences for Ford Motor Company his longtime secretary A.A. Backus stated, “Yes, Mr. Edsel Ford was a swell individual and in my twenty-seven years with the Ford Motor Company I never heard anyone say anything different.”

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Edsel Ford on the Beach with Henry Ford II and Benson Ford, 1921. THF95355

Meredith Pollock is Special Assistant to the Vice President at The Henry Ford.

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1927 Ford Model T Touring Car, The Fifteen-Millionth Ford. THF135450

Beginning today through April 9 we're honored to have our 1927 Ford Model T Touring Car, the fifteen-millionth Ford, on view at the National Mall for the 2018 Cars at the Capital event. The Historic Vehicle Association has selected our T for inclusion on its National Historic Vehicle Association Register. The 15 Millionth Model T joins impressive roster this year; other vehicles being added to the list include a 1984 Plymouth Voyager (the first Chrysler Minivan), a 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback (used in the iconic chase scene in the 1968 film Bullitt), a 1985 Modena Spyder California (featured in the 1986 movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off), and a 1918 Cadillac Type 57. 

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Henry Ford and Edsel Ford with the Fifteen-Millionth Ford Model T on the Last Day of Model T Production, May 26, 1927. THF118798

Although the 1927 Model T looked different from the original 1908 Model T due to many styling changes, the basic elements that made the Model T a technological innovation and cultural phenomenon - a simple 4-cylinder engine, planetary transmission, the limited color choices, and a flexible and strong chassis - were still there but were now liabilities in the automobile market. Consumers were no longer satisfied with a basic,dependable car. Americans demanded faster cars with smoother rides and more amenities. By the mid-1920s, it was obvious to almost everyone at Ford that the Model T's time had passed. Henry Ford, however, retained his firm belief that the Model T was all that anyone would ever need. In an attempt to check declining sales, Ford engineers incrementally modernized the car, introducing options such as electric starters, manually operated windshield wipers and body color choices. (Famously, black as the only color offered from 1914 through 1925.)

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None of these ploys, however, allowed the Model T to compete with Chevrolet and Dodge Brothers cars that offered heaters, automated wipers, and a more comfortable ride - all at a comparable price.

When production of the Model T ended in May 1927, Henry Ford's "Universal Car" had introduced the world to the idea of personal mobility and transformed where and how we lived.

Take a look at the car getting ready to head to Washington, D.C., in this video.


If your travels take you to Washington, D.C. the week of April 3-9, then look for the car on the National Mall, between the National Gallery of Art and the National Air & Space Museum. If not, then look for the car, later this spring, back at its usual home in the Mack Avenue Plant in Greenfield Village.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation for The Henry Ford.

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Mrs. Potts type flatiron made by A. C. Williams Company of Ravenna, Ohio, 1893-1910. THF171197

A "Cool Hand" Who Always Came to the "Point"

In the early 1870s, a young wife and mother had a better idea for making the arduous task of ironing easier. Her name was Mrs. Potts.

At this time, people smoothed the wrinkles from their clothing with flatirons made of cast iron. These irons were heavy. And needed to be heated on a wood stove before they could be used—then put back to be reheated once again when they began to cool. (Automatic temperature control was not to be had.)   

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Mary Florence Potts was a 19-year-old Ottumwa, Iowa, wife and mother of a toddler son when she applied for her first patent in October 1870, one reissued with additions in 1872.  Mrs. Potts’ improved iron had a detachable wooden handle that stayed cool to the touch. (Conventional irons had cast iron handles that also got hot as the iron was heated on the stove— housewives had to use a thick cloth to avoid burning their hands.) Mrs. Potts’ detachable wooden handle could be easily moved from iron to iron, from one that had cooled down during use to one heated and ready on the stove. This curved wooden handle was not only cool, but also more comfortable—alleviating strain on the wrist.

Mrs. Potts’ iron was lighter. Rather than being made of solid cast iron, Mrs. Potts came up with idea of filling an inside cavity of the iron with a non-conducting material like plaster of Paris or cement to make it lighter, and less tiring, to use. (Florence Potts’ father was a mason and a plasterer, perhaps an inspiration for this idea.)

Previous iron design had a point only on one end. Mrs. Potts’ design included a point on each end, to allow the user to use it in either direction. 

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THF214642Mrs. Potts appeared on trade cards advertising her irons. This one dates from about 1883. THF214641

Mrs. Potts’ innovations produced one of the most popular and widely used flatirons of the late 19th century. It was widely manufactured and licensed in the United States and Europe with advertising featuring her image. Mrs. Potts’ iron was displayed at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Millions of visitors attended the exhibition.

The Potts iron became so popular that by 1891, special machines were invented that could produce several thousand semicircular wood handles in a single day, rather than the few hundred handles produced daily with earlier technology. Mrs. Potts' type irons continued to be manufactured throughout the world well into the twentieth century.

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Though Mrs. Potts proved her inventive mettle with her innovative flatiron design, it appears that she did not reap spectacular financial rewards—at least by what can be discerned from census records and city directories. By 1873, the Potts family had moved from Iowa to Philadelphia, where her daughter Leona was born. They were still living there in 1880, when the census mentions no occupation given for any family member. Perhaps, if Mrs. Potts and her family became people of leisure, it was only for a time. Whether through need or desire, the Potts family had moved to Camden, New Jersey by the 1890s, where Joseph Potts and son Oscero worked as chemists. Joseph Potts died in 1901. By 1910, Florence and Oscero were mentioned as owners of Potts Manufacturing Company, makers of optical goods.

Mrs. Potts’ creativity made the tough task of ironing less onerous for millions of women in the late 19th century. And—though most are unaware—the story of the inventive Mary Florence Potts lives on in the many thousands of irons still found in places like antique shops and eBay.

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