Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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Dan Gurney at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 1963. THF114611

The Henry Ford is deeply saddened by the loss of a man who was both an inspiration and a friend to our organization for many years, Dan Gurney.

Mr. Gurney’s story began on Long Island, New York, where he was born on April 13, 1931. His father, John Gurney, was a singer with the Metropolitan Opera, while his grandfather, Frederic Gurney, designed and manufactured a series of innovative ball bearings.

The Gurneys moved west to Riverside, California, shortly after Dan graduated high school. For the car-obsessed teenager, Southern California was a paradise on Earth. He was soon building hot rods and racing on the amateur circuit before spending two years with the Army during the Korean War.

Following his service, Gurney started racing professionally. He finished second in the Riverside Grand Prix and made his first appearance at Le Mans in 1958, and earned a spot on Ferrari’s Formula One team the following year. Through the 1960s, Gurney developed a reputation as America’s most versatile driver, earning victories in Grand Prix, Indy Car, NASCAR and Sports Car events.

His efforts with Ford Motor Company became the stuff of legend. It was Dan Gurney who, in 1962, brought British race car builder Colin Chapman to Ford’s racing program. Gurney saw first-hand the success enjoyed by Chapman’s lithe, rear-engine cars in Formula One, and he was certain they could revolutionize the Indianapolis 500 – still dominated by heavy, front-engine roadsters. Jim Clark proved Gurney’s vision in 1965, winning Indy with a Lotus chassis powered by a rear-mounted Ford V-8. Clark’s victory reshaped the face of America’s most celebrated motor race.

Simultaneous with Ford’s efforts at Indianapolis, the Blue Oval was locked in its epic battle with Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Again, Dan Gurney was on the front lines. While his 1966 race, with Jerry Grant in a Ford GT40 Mark II, ended early with a failed radiator, the next year brought one of Gurney’s greatest victories. He and A.J. Foyt, co-piloting a Ford Mark IV, finished more than 30 miles ahead of the second-place Ferrari. It was the first (and, to date, only) all-American victory at the French endurance race – American drivers in an American car fielded by an American team. Gurney was so caught up in the excitement that he shook his celebratory champagne and sprayed it all over the crowd – the start of a victory tradition.

Just days after the 1967 Le Mans, Gurney earned yet another of his greatest victories when he won the Belgian Grand Prix in an Eagle car built by his own All American Racers. It was another singular achievement. To date, Gurney remains the only American driver to win a Formula One Grand Prix in a car of his own construction.

Dan Gurney retired from competitive driving in 1970, but remained active as a constructor and a team owner. His signature engineering achievement, the Gurney Flap, came in 1971. The small tab, added to the trailing edge of a spoiler or wing, increases downforce – and traction – on a car. Gurney flaps are found today not only on racing cars, but on helicopters and airplanes, too. In 1980, Gurney’s All American Racers built the first rolling-road wind tunnel in the United States. He introduced his low-slung Alligator motorcycle in 2002 and, ten years after that, the radical DeltaWing car, which boasted half the weight and half the drag of a conventional race car. Never one to settle down, Gurney and his team most recently were at work on a moment-canceling two-cylinder engine that promised smoother, more reliable operation than conventional power plants.

THF56228Dan Gurney, 2008. THF56228

Our admiration for Mr. Gurney at The Henry Ford is deep and longstanding. In 2014, he became only the second winner of our Edison-Ford Medal for Innovation. It was a fitting honor for a man who brought so much to motorsport, and who remains so indelibly tied to The Henry Ford’s automotive collection. Cars like the Ford Mark IV, the Mustang I, the Lotus-Ford, and even the 1968 Mercury Cougar XR7-G (which he endorsed for Ford, hence the “G” in the model name), all have direct links to Mr. Gurney.

We are so very grateful for the rich and enduring legacy Dan Gurney leaves behind. His spirit, determination and accomplishments will continue to inspire for generations to come.

Hear Mr. Gurney describe his career and accomplishments in his own words at our “Visionaries on Innovation” page here.

View the film made to honor Mr. Gurney at his Edison-Ford Medal ceremony below.



Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Every January, the tech world descends upon Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show. In 2018, over 4000 global companies displayed their products and ideas, spread throughout 2.6 million square feet of exhibition space in the Las Vegas Convention Center and ten hotels. Nearly 185,000 industry professionals, exhibitors, and media from around the world attended this year. By the numbers, it is an impressive event.

Many successful home technologies have made their debut at CES over its 51-year run: VCRs, camcorders, CD players, DVDs, tablet computers—even the original Nintendo Entertainment System and Xbox. This year’s trends included the forthcoming “5G network,” digital health and fitness, and improved autonomous vehicles. One “battle” visible on the show floor was the widespread adoption of voice-command technology—from smart speakers in the home to command modules in vehicles—and which platform would reign. Ask Alexa. Hey Google. Hi Bixby.

CES has been known to “make or break” companies. Established companies use the event as a forum to launch new products, improve existing devices, or inadvertently—present the occasional flop. Likewise, the 600+ startup companies that populate the specialized “Eureka Park” section angle to find the right pair of eyes on their idea and to secure funding for marketplace production.

Even with two curators on the ground, it was impossible to see everything. What follows is a sampling of our Curator of Communication & Information Technology and our Curator of Transportation’s favorite “CES Moments.” 

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Here come the robots! Some of them can’t be described as anything but “cute,” like this Kuri model (upper left) from Mayfield Robotics. Also popular was Blue Frog’s “Buddy,” (upper right) and Sony’s Aibo the robot dog (bottom). All three of these devices are designed as “companion robots” and have a variety of expressive features. Today’s robots are equipped with facial recognition, cameras for capturing life’s moments, and often double as home security. 

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Analog is always new again! The proliferation of quality cellphone cameras and social media has all but locked our memories into digital landscapes. But people remain hungry for physical media and printed photographs. This year at CES, Kodak displayed the Printomatic (right) and Polaroid announced the OneStep 2—an instant camera blending old and new technology (left, middle). The colorful film options and iconic square format should look familiar to today’s Instagrammers.

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Continuing in the analog spirit… When the Technics SL-1200 record turntable debuted in 1972, its direct-drive technology made it an immediate hit not just with consumers but also with radio and club DJs. These robust “Wheels of Steel” played an essential role in the early years of hip hop record scratching and live dance music mixing. While the SL-1200 went out of production in 2010, many 1970s-era Technics remain in use today. At 2017’s CES, the coveted device began production once again. This year, Technics announced a new high-end turntable—the SL-1000R—which carries over the best qualities of the SL-1200. While the drastic rise in recent vinyl sales is often touted as a “revival,” the commitment of companies to produce quality turntables is evidence that the medium never really went away. 

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There was a lot of buzz at CES 2018 about the coming of the “voice assistant wars” between Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, and a flood of startups finding their way into the mix. Voice-activated technology is nearly ubiquitous, as we have learned to ask Siri and Google for directions. And smart home devices—especially interactive speakers—have become more commonplace as we use them not only to listen to music and podcasts, but also to seek out information like weather, steps to a recipe, or to set up reminders. Our tech curator’s biggest CES disappointment was the heavy rains and floods that forced the Google Assistant booth to close, as well as that fun looking slide to the left. 

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Growing plants – that’s technology too! A variety of companies presented vertical hydroponic growing systems, geared towards health-savvy consumers who wish to take control of the food they consume. The SmallGarden by ēdn (right) and products by Opcom Farm (left) have married stylish, scalable design with LED lighting and intelligent automation. 

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And perhaps our tech curator’s favorite item at CES this year was this robotic duck, designed through a partnership between Aflac and Sproutel. The award-winning “My Special Aflac Duck” is designed to help children cope with cancer treatment. Its touch sensors respond with soothing sounds when it is cuddled with, and it teaches young children calming breathing exercises while they undergo IV treatments. Round RFID chips containing emoji faces are meant to mirror emotions—when tapped against the duck, the toy will then reflect its patient’s feelings by groaning or quacking happily. An accessory even allows kids to play out administering “medication.” These features combine to allow young patients to communicate their emotions effectively, take on the role of caregiver, and reduce anxiety. The duck will be tested at an Atlanta treatment center this year, with the future goal of donating the social robot to any child diagnosed with cancer, nationwide.

While it’s not quite the North American International Auto Show, CES is an increasingly important venue for automakers to debut new technologies, or to announce new partnerships with tech-savvy firms. If the automotive side of this year’s show was to be captured in a single word, it’s “autonomy.” Self-driving vehicles are on everyone’s mind – we’re no longer talking about this tech in terms of “if,” but “when.”

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Toyota president Akio Toyoda spoke clearly to the growing overlap between the automotive and tech worlds when he noted that his company’s competitors now include not only carmakers like General Motors, Volkswagen and Honda, but also firms like Google, Apple and Facebook. Toyoda sees the car evolving into a personal assistant, using predictive artificial intelligence to anticipate the travel needs of its owner. And, like a growing number of other industry members and observers, he also predicts the inevitable – if slow – extinction of the internal combustion engine. Toyota and Lexus plan to offer electric or hybrid versions of every one of their models by 2025.

Toyota’s big CES announcement focused on its e-Palette concept (above). The fully-autonomous electric vehicle is designed for maximum flexibility. An e-Palette could serve as a bus providing ride sharing services. It could work as a mobile store bringing goods to your front door on demand. It could even function as a rolling flexible workspace, giving us back some of those 38 hours that the average American loses to traffic congestion each year. Companies like Amazon, Pizza Hut and Uber have already agreed to partner with Toyota in e-Palette’s development.

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Self-driving cars offer more than mere productivity. Safety promises to be their greatest benefit. Some 35,000 people die in motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. each year, and 90 percent of those accidents are due to human error. Eliminate the human element, so the thinking goes, and you eliminate the vast majority of those deaths.

Sophisticated lifesaving tools are here today. CES exhibitor eyeSight Technologies uses in-car sensors to track driver eye movement, blink rate and head pose (above). Look away from the road – say, at your phone – for too long and the system can trigger an audible alarm. Blink too often or for too long – perhaps because you’re too drowsy to drive – and the system could conceivably cause the car to slow down and pull off to the side of the road.

There are still many problems to solve before we have fully-autonomous cars in every garage. Who’s liable in an accident? The carmaker, the programmer, the owner? What happens when you’re traveling in a remote area with poor broadband service – and no GPS? What happens in the “transition” period, when self-driving cars share the road with human-driven vehicles? Can they communicate with one another? And the biggest question of all: Will people be comfortable putting their lives in a computer’s hands? But, ready or not, this new world is coming. In fact, it had already arrived at CES – Lyft and Aptive partnered to provide rides around Las Vegas in autonomous BMWs.

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When you think about the relationship between humans and self-driving cars, remember that it’s not just the humans inside the car. How pedestrians, cyclists and other street users interact with an autonomous vehicle is equally important. Ford’s CES booth featured a van at the center of an interesting research project (above). In the study, a driver camouflages himself in a seat-cover costume – yes, really – and then drives around gauging people’s reactions. How disconcerting is it to see an empty van rolling toward the crosswalk? And how confident can you be that it’ll stop for you?

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Ford and Toyota both emphasized that they’re not in the car business anymore – they’re in the mobility business. The recreated streetscape in Ford’s booth included not only the van and an autonomous Fusion sedan, but also bicycles, skaters and pedestrians. Ride sharing and self-driving vehicles will reduce traffic, either by cutting the number of cars on the road, or by using roads more efficiently. It’s a dream come true for urbanists who’ve long searched for ways to reclaim pavement for uses other than moving and/or parking cars. (Ever hear the term woonerf? You will!) In fact, Ford’s street even included park benches and grass in a reclaimed lane (above).

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The twin revolutions of the electric powertrain and autonomous capability may provide the best opportunity to get into the car business since just after World War II. Few newcomers attracted as much attention at CES as Byton. The Chinese manufacturer plans to enter the American market in 2020 with a battery-powered Level 3 autonomous car capable of up to 325 miles between charges (above). Instead of a dashboard, Byton’s car uses a 49-inch screen. And instead of knobs and buttons – or even a touchscreen – passengers control the car’s features with hand gestures. And you don’t even have to worry about locking your keys in the car – the Byton’s doors are unlocked with facial recognition software.

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And finally, for something completely different, the prize for Most Unexpected Quadricycle Sighting goes to… Gibson Guitars (above). The company’s special edition “20th Century Tribute” archtop, on display in its CES tent, featured images of influential people, technologies and events from the past century. Note that Orville and Wilbur Wright had a well-deserved spot, too!

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

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THF213753 / George Washington Carver at Dedication of George Washington Carver Cabin, Greenfield Village, 1942.

On this day in 1946, George Washington Carver Recognition Day was designated by a joint act of the U.S. Congress and proclaimed by President Harry S. Truman. Carver died just three years earlier on this day in 1943.

Immediately, public officials and the news media began to celebrate his life and create lasting reminders of his work in education, agricultural science, and art. Carver, mindful of his own legacy, had already established the Craver Foundation during the 15th annual Negro History Week, on February 14, 1940, to carry on his research at Tuskegee. It seems fitting to pay respects to Carver on his death day by taking a closer look at the floral beautis that Carver so loved, and that we see around us, even during winter.

Carver recalled that, “day after day I spent in the woods alone in order to collect my floral beautis” [Kremer, ed., pg. 20]. He believed that studying nature encouraged investigation and stimulated originality. Experimentation with plants “rounded out” originality, freedom of thought and action.THF213747
THF213747 / George Washington Carver Holding Queen Anne's Lace Flowers, Greenfield Village, 1942.

Carver wanted children to learn how to study nature at an early age. He explained that it is “entertaining and instructive, and is the only true method that leads up to a clear understanding of the great natural principles which surround every branch of business in which we may engage” (Progressive Nature Studies, 1897, pg. 4). He encouraged teachers to provide each student a slip of plain white or manila paper so they could make sketches. Neatness mattered. As Carver explained, the grading scale “only applies to neatness, as some will naturally draw better than others.”

Neatness equated to accuracy, and with accuracy came knowledge. Farm families could vary their diet by identifying additional plants they could eat, and identify challenges that plants faced so they could correct them and grow more for market.

Carver understood how the landscape changed between the seasons, and exploring during winter was just as important as exploring during summer. Thus, it is appropriate to apply Carver’s directions about observing nature to the winter landscape around us, and to draw the winter botanicals that we see, based on directions excerpted from Carver’s Progressive Nature Studies (1897). (Items in parentheses added to prompt winter-time nature study - DAR and DE, 3 Jan 2018.)

  • Leaves – Are they all alike? What plants retain their leaves in winter? Draw as many different shaped leaves as you can.
  • Stems – Are stems all round? Draw the shapes of as many different stems as you can find. Of what use are stems? Do any have commercial value?
  • Flowers (greenhouses/florists) – Of what value to the plant are the flowers?
  • Trees – Note the different shapes of several different trees. How do they differ? (Branching? Bark?)  Which trees do you consider have the greatest value?
  • Shrubs – What is the difference between a shrub and a tree?
  • Fruit (winter berries) – What is fruit? Are they all of value?

Carver worked in greenhouses and encouraged others to use greenhouses and hot beds to start vegetables earlier in the planting system. The sooner farm families had fresh vegetables, the more quickly they could reduce the amount they had to purchase from grocery stores, and the healthier the farm families would be. 

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THF213726 / George Washington Carver in a Greenhouse, 1939.

In 1910, Carver included directions for work with nature studies and children’s gardens over twelve months. Selections from “January” suitable for nearly all southern states” included:

  • Begin in this month for spring gardening by breaking the ground very deeply and thoroughly
  • Clear off and destroy trash (plant debris) that might be a hiding place for noxious insects.
  • Cabbages can be put in hot beds, cold frames, or well-protected places.
  • Grape vines, fruit trees, hedges and ornamental trees should receive attention (pruning, fertilizing)
  • Both root and top grafting of trees should be done.
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THF213314 / Pamphlet, "Nature Study and Children's Gardens," by George Washington Carver, circa 1910.

Carver illustrated his own publications, basing his botanical drawings on what he observed in his field work. He conveyed details that his readers needed to know, be they school children tending their gardens, or farm families trying to raise better crops.

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THF213278 / Pamphlet, "Some Possibilities of the Cow Pea in Macon County, Alabama," by George Washington Carver, 1910 / page 12.

carver-illustration-1Edible wild botanicals, also known as weeds, appeared in late winter. Carver encouraged everyone from his students at Tuskegee to Henry Ford to consumer more wild greens year round, but especially in late winter when greens became a welcome respite from root crops and preserved meats which dominated winter fare. His pamphlet, Nature’s Garden for Victory and Peace, prepared during World War II, featured numerous drawings of edible wild botanicals, also called weeds. Americans could contribute to the war effort by diversifying their diets with these greens that sprouted in the woods during the late winter and early spring. Carver illustrated each wild green, including dandelion, wild lettuce, curled dock, lamb’s quarter, and pokeweed. Following the protocol used in botanical drawing, he credited the source, as he did with several illustrations identified as “after C.M. King.” This referenced the work of Charlotte M. King, who taught botanical drawing at Iowa State University during the time of Carver’s residency there, and who likely influenced Carver’s approach to botanical drawing. King’s original of the “Small Pepper Grass” drawing appeared in The Weed Flora of Iowa (1913), written by Carver’s mentor, botanist Louis Hermann Pammel. 

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THF213586 / Pamphlet, "Nature's Garden for Victory and Peace," by George Washington Carver, March 1942.

To learn more about Carver, consult these biographies:

  • Hersey, Mark D. My Work is that of Conservation: An Environmental Biography of George Washington Carver. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011.
  • Kremer, Gary R. George Washington Carver: A Biography. Santa Barbara, Cal.: Greenwood, 2011.
  • Kremer, Gary R. ed. George Washington Carver in His Own Words. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987.
  • McMurry, Linda O. George Washington Carver, Scientist and Symbol. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.

To read more about Carver and Nature Study, see:

  • Carver, G. W. Progressive Nature Studies. (Tuskegee Institute Print, 1897), Digital copy available at Biodiversity Heritage Library, https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/98621#page/132/mode/1up
  • Harbster, Jennifer. “George Washington Carver and Nature Study,” blog, March 2, 2015, https://blogs.loc.gov/inside_adams/2015/03/george-washington-carver-and-nature-study/

Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford. Deborah Evans is Master Presenter at The Henry Ford.

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THF233334 / Advertising Process Photograph Showing the 1963 Ford Mustang II Concept Car.

The 1963 Mustang II (not to be confused with the Ford Pinto-based production Mustang II of the 1970s) surely is one of the most unusual concept cars ever built. Industry practice (and common sense) tells us that an automaker builds a concept car as a kind of far-out “dream car” to generate excitement at car shows. Most never go past the concept stage, but a few do make it into regular production. (Chevrolet’s Corvette and Dodge’s Viper are notable examples.) The Mustang II previewed the production Ford Mustang we all know and love, but the concept car was designed and built after the production Mustang project already was well underway! Why? It’s a case of managing public expectations. 

Most Mustang histories start with the 1962 Mustang I, but devoted pony fans know that Mustang I was an entirely separate project from the production car. Ford built the “Mustang Experimental Sports Car” (its original name – the “I” was a retrospective addition) to spark interest in the company’s activities. Ford was going back into racing and looking for a quick way to create some buzz about the exciting things happening in Dearborn. The plan worked a bit too well. When Mustang I debuted at Watkins Glen in October 1962, and then hit the car show circuit, the public went crazy and sent countless letters to Ford begging the company to put the little two-seater into production.

At the same time Mustang I was being built, another team at Ford was working on the production Mustang that would debut in April 1964. Mustang I’s popularity created a problem: Everyone loved the two-seat race car, but would they feel the same about the four-seat version? The solution was to build a new four-seat prototype closely based on the production Mustang’s design.

Enter the 1963 Mustang II.

The new concept car wasn’t just based on the production Mustang’s design – it was actually built from a prototype production Mustang body. Ford designers removed the front and rear bumpers, altered the headlights and grille treatment, and fitted Mustang II with a removable roof. While the car looked different from the production Mustang, a few of the production car’s trademark styling cues were retained, including the C-shaped side sculpting and the tri-bar taillights. Mustang II also consciously borrowed from Mustang I, employing the 1962 car’s distinct white paint and blue racing stripes. Conceptually and physically, the four-seat Mustang II formed a bridge linking the 1962 Mustang I with the 1965 production car. Mustang II was a hit when it debuted at Watkins Glen in October 1963, and when the production version premiered six months later, there were few complaints about the four seats instead of two.

Fortunately, Mustang II is one “link” that isn’t “missing.” The Detroit Historical Society acquired the car in 1975 and has taken great care of it ever since. 

View artifacts related to Mustang II in The Henry Ford’s Digital Collections.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford

Can Objects Talk?

January 1, 2018 Think THF
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THF155560 / Radio Receiver Used in the Piccards' Stratospheric Balloon Ascension, 1934.

Objects have a tendency to develop lives and stories of their own, and I love figuring out the various ways they “speak” to us, the networks and worlds they form, and the variety of angles they can be looked at from. Part of the challenge of studying the history of media, information and communication is in knowing how to draw scattered data back together again, and how to weave a story out of it, to make it accessible and interesting — all the while rooting it to the object in question.

The microlevel details and histories of objects can be coaxed into connecting to big ideas. For example, the same “never leak” gaskets used in the modest Star-Rite electric toaster were also used in the engine of the Spirit of St. Louis airplane. So here, gaskets migrate out of the kitchen to become silent players that made the first transatlantic flight possible. This, in turn, connects not only to the development of aero technology but also to the desire to conquer space and time.

It makes me think of a shortwave radio receiver in our collection that was custom-built by William Duckwitz for ground communication during a balloon flight. The knobs, wires and tubes are typical of a DIY ethos. The flight itself took off from Ford Airport in 1934 and rose nearly 11 miles into the stratosphere. Who was manning the gondola below the hydrogen-filled balloon? Jeannette Piccard, a streetwise woman with impressive credentials. She was the first woman to be licensed as a balloon pilot and became the first American woman to enter the stratosphere and, technically speaking, space. Piccard once said: “When you fly a balloon, you don’t file a flight plan; you go where the wind goes. You feel like part of the air. You almost feel like part of eternity, and you just float along.”

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The objects in my curatorial care are essentially a huge collection of “black boxes”— a concept that means the more seamless and successful a technology is, the more mystifying and opaque its inner functions become to the everyday user. And so, another exciting task is to figure out a way to reveal the invisible networks among the collections, to allow patrons to see communications and IT devices and think beyond their sleek shells (or messy tubes and wires) and understand how they relate to ideas, stories, invention and to themselves — as users.


Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communications and Information Technology. This article originally appeared in the Ask + Answer section of
The Henry Ford Magazine, January-May 2014.

Nostalgia for those who experienced it—and a hip mid-century modern revival for others.

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The Visits with Santa experience in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation this year is a throwback to the 1960s. Kids can tell Santa their wishes as they sit next to him under a colorful kiosk made by Ray and Charles Eames for the IBM pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.  Nearby is a cozy 1960s living room vignette—complete with a La-Z-Boy chair, television set, and an aluminum Christmas tree from the era.

This mid-century modern theme coincides with the opening of our newest permanent exhibit in the museum, Mathematica, also designed by Ray and Charles. Several components of Mathematica were featured inside that IBM Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair, so we were excited to bring those two experiences together for this year’s holiday programming.

The scene provides a bit of nostalgia for those who experienced the 1960s—and a hip mid-century modern revival for others. Let’s look at some blasts from the 1960s Christmas past.

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Aluminum trees brought a modern look to a mid-1960s Christmas.  THF170112

The early 1960s brought a fresh, new look to Christmas tree aesthetics.  A completely modern look--the aluminum Christmas tree.   It made a shiny, metallic splash in living rooms all over America.  More than a million trees were sold during the decade.   A tree choice that eschewed the traditional pine- or fir-scented Christmas experience when it landed on the Christmas scene in the 1960s, now conjures up images of a retro Christmas past.

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Color wheel sold by Sears, Roebuck and Company, 1960-1965.  THF8379

A color wheel lit up the aluminum tree, with the tree changing from blue to red to green to gold as the wheel revolved.  The color wheel was there for a practical reason—you couldn’t put strings of lights on aluminum trees because of fire safety concerns.   But to those viewing the transformation, the color wheel seemed a no-brainer way to light these trees—so modern and so magical.  It was mesmerizing to watch—whether from a front row seat in your living room or the view through your neighbor’s window.

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The Smith family of Redford, Michigan purchased these ornaments in 1964 to hang on their aluminum Christmas tree.  THF309083

Aluminum trees called for minimalist look. The trees were often sparingly decked with ornaments all of one color. 

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The Wojewidka siblings pose for a Christmas photo in front of their live tree in 1960.  THF125145

Yet, “real” trees remained popular as well—fresh-cut trees chosen from one of the many temporary Christmas tree lots that popped up in cities and towns. (The cut-your-own trend was not yet widespread.)  Scotch pines were favored by many—though there were diehard balsam fans as well.  These trees were bedecked with a varied array of ornaments—glass ones by the Shiny Brite company were popular. And shiny “icicles”—made of lead before it was prohibited—hung from the branches to add to the sparkle.

Holiday Greetings in the Mail

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By the early 1960s, Christmas cards offered a greater variety of seasonal images beyond those traditionally found. This image shows a woman clothed in a pine tree decorated with 1960s trendy-colored ornaments.   THF287028  

By mid-December, mailboxes were filling with Christmas cards, sent by family and friends to let the recipient know that they were being specially thought of during the holiday season. It was exciting to pull out handfuls of cards from the mailbox—it may have been the only time during the year when a kid had much interest in what the postman delivered. And not necessarily because of the cards themselves—the cards were a tangible sign that Christmas was indeed on its way and that Santa would soon be making his deliveries!  

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Christmas card display clothesline and pins, about 1964. THF155082   

Where did people display all these Christmas cards? On a mantle, a table, or the top of the television. Or taped to a wall or a large mirror in the living room. Hanging them from a Christmas-themed clothesline was a more novel way to display them.

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This 1962 stamp carried traditional Christmas images of lighted candles and a wreath.  THF287036

In 1962, the United States Postal Service issued the first Christmas-themed postage stamps in America. (A few other countries had already beaten us to the punch on issuing Christmas-themed postage stamps.) But once begun, Christmas stamps graced more and more Christmas card envelopes to complete the annual presentation of holiday-themed greetings sent through the mail. 

Making a List

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Christmas catalogs like this 1964 Sears, Roebuck & Company got a workout in December. THF135874

Kids were busy deciding what to ask Santa for. Instead of perusing the web, kids looked forward to the arrival of Christmas season catalogs sent by stores like Sears, Roebuck and Company, J.C. Penney, and Montgomery Ward.  Kids (and adults) eagerly leafed through the pages of the toys, clothing, and other gifts offered within, making their wish list for Santa’s perusal before passing the catalog along to another family member.

Television offered additional gift ideas, playing out the merits of products before viewers’ eyes in commercials that one couldn’t speed past with a DVR.

Toys for Girls and Boys
Many 1960s toys that appeared on the Christmas lists of millions of kids during the 1960s—some in updated versions—are still classics.

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Silly Putty modeling compound, about 1962.  THF135811

Silly Putty was invented during World War II as General Electric researchers worked to develop a synthetic substitute for rubber.  While no practical purpose could be found for the stuff, it did turn out to be a great toy. Silly Putty bounced higher and stretched farther than rubber.  It even lifted images off the pages of color comics. (My sister took Silly Putty to bed with her, leaving a perfect egg-shaped stain on the sheets that never came out.)

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Eight-year-old Rachel Marone of New York received this Etch A Sketch as s Christmas gift in 1961.  THF93827

The 1960s saw an innovative new arts and crafts toy—the Etch A Sketch. Turning the knobs at the bottom of the screen (one to create horizontal lines, one for vertical) let the user “draw” on the screen with a mixture of aluminum powder and plastic beads. To erase, you just turned the screen over and shook it.  Incidentally, it was the first toy that Ohio Art, its manufacturer, ever advertised on television.  (Accomplished users could make great drawings on the Etch A Sketch—and some of us were just happy to produce decent-looking curved lines.)

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This 1962 Play-Doh Fun Factory was a childhood toy of Mary Sherman of Minnesota.  THF170363

Play-Doh introduced their Fun Factory in 1960. Now kids could go beyond free-form modeling with their red, yellow, blue and white Play-Doh. The Play-Doh Fun Factory provided instructions on how to create things like trains, planes, and boats—and an extruder with dies to easily make the components. 

Watching Christmas Specials on TV

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Album from A Charlie Brown Christmas television special, about 1965.  THF162745

Kids eagerly listened for announcements on television or leafed excitedly through TV Guide magazine to find out when the holiday specials would air.  You didn’t want to miss them—it was your only shot at watching!  There were no DVRs or DVDs back then. Two animated classics from the mid-1960s--A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas--are among the earliest and most enduring of the Christmas specials developed for television.  

Within their engaging storylines, these two shows carried a message about the growing commercialization of the holiday.  As kids watched the barrage of toy ads that appeared with regularity on their television screens and leafed through catalogs to make their Christmas lists, seeing these cartoons reminded them that Christmas was also about higher ideals—not just about getting presents.  These television shows—and the increasing number and variety of Christmas specials that have since joined them—remain a yearly reminder to temper one’s holiday-related commercialism and to think of the needs of others. 

Not only have Charlie Brown and the Grinch become perennial favorites enjoyed by children and adults alike, but the soundtracks of these shows have joined the pantheon of musical Christmas classics. 

Christmas Music

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The Ronettes’ version of Sleigh Ride, with its freshly melodic “Ring-a-ling-a-ling Ding-dong ding” background vocals on this 1963 Phil Spector-produced album, has become an iconic Christmas classic. THF135943

What would a 1960s Christmastime be without Christmas-themed music heard on the stereo at home and over speakers in stores? The 1960s saw a flood of Christmas albums and singles. Various singers—like Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Johnny Mathis, Brenda Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis Presley, the Ronettes, the Crystals, and the Beach Boys—recorded their versions of old favorites and new tunes.   

The Annual Christmas Photo

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In 1963, the Truby brothers of Royal Oak, Michigan, posed in Santa pajamas given to them by their grandmother. THF287005

After the presents were opened and everyone was dressed in their Christmas finery, it was time to round up the kids for photos. Siblings (and, sometimes, their parents) might be posed together in front of a seasonal backdrop like the Christmas tree or a fireplace. Some families filmed home movies of their celebrations. These home movies often captured only strategic snippets of the Christmas celebration—movie film was expensive. And these home movies were without sound—which was probably sometimes a good thing!

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

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Sliding puzzles of “Toy Story” characters, 1996.
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In 1995, Disney-Pixar’s “Toy Story” made history as the first feature-length computer-animated film. The movie was a surprise box-office hit, far exceeding estimates. In 1996, it won an Academy Award for Special Achievement and was the first animated film ever nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

In fact, Disney took a real chance on Pixar, a young unproven tech startup at the time. Indeed, the staff at Pixar knew computer technology but they had never created a full-length feature film. But, in the course of developing the film, they made a key decision that laid the foundation for Pixar’s success, both then and now. They decided to put the story first—to focus attention the characters, the plot, the action. So, sure, the computer animation of the first “Toy Story” movie looks really primitive today. But pretty soon, you forget about that because the story still grabs you. Even though the main characters are toys, it’s a universal human story, about who your friends are, or aren’t, or could be.

In addition to the very relatable human story, both children and adults embraced the film right from the beginning because of the choices of the toys themselves. Why are those the toys in Andy’s room? In fact, they primarily come from the filmmakers’ own memories playing with their childhood toys—leading to a motley assortment of toys from the mid-20th century to the 1990s that reflects the varied ages of the film’s creators. Some of these evoke a specific era; others have become classics, continually produced over decades for successive generations of kids. We dug into our own collections to find some of the real toys that appear in “Toy Story” and reveal their true stories.

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Cheyenne game, 1958-65. THF 91876

Let’s start with the main character, Sheriff Woody. Woody wasn’t a real toy; instead, he represented a whole group of toys. During the 1950s, cowboy movies and TV shows were huge. This was an era during which the West was greatly romanticized, something Walt Disney was on to when he created Frontierland at Disneyland in 1955. Cowboys, in particular, were revered as rough and tough, independent, honest, and hardworking characters—at the time considered laudable traits for young boys (and girls) to emulate. In “Toy Story 2,” we find out that Woody indeed comes from a 1950s-era TV show entitled “Woody’s Roundup.” This game from our collection was named after a real TV show called “Cheyenne” that ran from 1955 to 1963.

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Rocket Darts game, 1940s. THF 91902

Buzz Lightyear also represented an era and a larger group of toys and games. During the mid-20th century, outer space was considered really mysterious and it fascinated people. At first, it was depicted as pure science fiction, as represented by the aliens and Pizza Planet in “Toy Story” and shown on the cover of this Rocket Darts game from the 1940s. Increasingly, outer space became a real destination as part of the 1960s-era “Space Race”—leading to Americans actually landing a man on the moon in 1969. Buzz Lightyear is reminiscent of this era, equipped as he is with special features that seem more advanced and sophisticated than Woody’s primitive pull string.

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Mr. Potato Head playset, 1955-60. THF 47

Mr. (and Mrs.) Potato Head were and still are real toys. They were introduced in 1952 and 1953, respectively. Back in the 1950s, when this playset was produced, it included 28 different face pieces and accessories—like eyes, noses, mouths, and mustaches—that kids would stick on real potatoes! Hasbro began supplying a plastic potato with each kit in 1964.

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Life magazine ad, 1957. THF 109573

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Slinky in original box, 1970s. THF 309090

Slinky Dog or, as Woody called him—“Slink”—was also a real toy, as show in this 1957 Christmas ad. He evolved from the invention of the Slinky, along with a host of other rather bizarre-looking Slinky-related toys shown in this ad. The original Slinky was introduced in 1946, when a marine engineer was trying to invent a spring for the motor of a naval battleship.

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Toy army men, mid- to late 20th century. THF 170098

The green army men from the “Bucket O Soldiers” referenced the long history of toy soldier playsets. Toy soldiers made of lead or tin date back to the 19th-century Europe. With advancements in plastics, green army men made of plastic like these became popular after World War II. Molding these figures in one piece with the base attached was less expensive to manufacture, leading to the stiff-legged maneuvers of the “troops”—as Woody called them—in the film.

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Magic Slate, 1937-46. THF 135603

Woody’s Doodle Pad may be a mashup between the Magic Slate and the Magna Doodle. The Magic Slate, marketed as the “erasable blackboard” is essentially a cardboard pad covered with a clear plastic sheet that “wrote” when a wood or plastic stylus was impressed on it and “erased” when the plastic was lifted up. It dates back to the 1920s, when it was offered as a free giveaway by a printing company. People finally realized that it would make a great plaything and it was heavily marketed to kids after World War II. The Magna Doodle, introduced in 1974 as a “dustless chalkboard,” can be considered a later magnetic version of the Magic Slate, with an erasable arm that swept the “board” clean.

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Etch A Sketch, 1961. THF 93827

The Etch A Sketch fell somewhere between the Magic Slate and the Magna Doodle. It was invented in 1958 by a French mechanic and tinkerer, who called it “L’Ecran Magique,” or “The Magic Screen.” It used a mixture of aluminum powder and plastic beads with a metal stylus guided by twin knobs and it erased when it was turned over and shaken. The rights to the toy were sold to Ohio Art in 1960, where it became the company’s biggest hit.

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Barrel of Monkeys game, 1966-70. THF 91975

What better way to use the Barrel of Monkeys game than to make a chain of monkeys to try and save a toy that had fallen out of a second-story window? Unfortunately, the monkeys didn’t save Buzz Lightyear but, when this game was introduced in 1966, it was advertised as being—what else?—“more fun than a barrel of monkeys.”

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Junior TinkerToy for Beginners playset, 1937-46. THF 135602

Woody used the classic TinkerToy box as a lectern for his meeting with the other toys in Andy’s room. TinkerToys were the brainchild of a man who cut out tombstones for a living but saw how much fun kids were having sticking pencils into spools of thread. He came up with the idea of the TinkerToy playset in 1914, billing it as the “Thousand Wonder Builder.” Over the years, TinkerToys were produced in a huge array of colors, sizes, and variations including plastic sets for younger kids introduced in 1992.

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Playskool Portable Baby Monitor, circa 1990. THF170094

The Nursery Monitor is technically not a toy, but it played a key role in the “Toy Story” film for the troops’ reconnaissance mission to report out on Andy’s presents. So we’ll consider it an honorary toy. It is the only item here, and one of the very few in the film, that dates uniquely from the era of Andy’s own childhood. This device would have connected immediately with young viewers who were Andy’s age in 1995, and who would grow up with him in succeeding “Toy Story” films.

Donna R. Braden, Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford, enjoyed viewing “Toy Story” several times as “research” for this blog post.

Inclusion Counts

November 22, 2017
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As part of The Henry Ford’s Community Outreach Program, VIP Mentoring mentor Patricia Shephard and her mentee Angel Lysher had the opportunity to hear Kimberly
Bryant share insights about the art of computer coding. The presentation by the founder of Black Girls CODE was part of the Innovator Speakers Series and took place in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.


When Patricia Shephard and 14-year-old Angel Lysher visited Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in March 2017, the two were on a mission to learn about the art of coding at a presentation by Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls CODE.

“I was interested in the Black Girls CODE presentation because it was about technology,” said Shephard, who has mentored Angel since 2016 through VIP Mentoring, a Detroit-based organization.“I feel it is important for Angel to experience as many presentations and outings that will give her hope and encourage her to break the ‘glass ceiling.’ It’s also important for her to learn about her culture and successful African- American people.”

After Bryant’s encouraging words, the two walked around the museum, discussing technology, programming and the importance of extracurricular activities.

“Not all girls want to play with Barbies,” said Angel, who added that she learned a great deal from Bryant’s presentation, including, “If you are a girl that likes technology, show it.”

A Privilege to Serve
Shephard and Angel attended the Bryant event as part of The Henry Ford’s Community Outreach Program, which works with direct social service providers to make The Henry Ford’s worldclass collections and educational experiences more accessible. VIP Mentoring, which fosters relationships between children in at-risk situations and caring adult volunteers, has been a Community Outreach Program partner since 2016.

Said Pamela Smith, a VIP Mentoring match specialist, “When The Henry Ford opens its doors to our families, it is creating a cultural and educational opportunity that most would never get to experience.”

The Henry Ford partners with more than 100 organizations in metro Detroit through its Community Outreach Program. Funded through the general operating budget, the 11 year-old program works through partner organizations to offer no-cost access to the museum, Greenfield Village and Ford Rouge Factory Tour to those in need, whether it’s resource-challenged families, at-risk youth, kids fighting cancer or young victims of violence. The intent is to offer inspiration from stories of American ingenuity, resourcefulness and innovation.

“We feel responsible for providing expanded community access to the unique learning
opportunities The Henry Ford provides,” said Stacey Simmons, Community Outreach Program manager. “We’re privileged to offer engaging and inspiring experiences that prompt new perspectives and reveal new opportunities. And we’re honored to work with other organizations committed to helping shape a better future.”

Did You Know?

You can support programs like the Community Outreach Program on #GivingTuesday by making a donation to The Henry Ford's Annual Fund. 
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Our 1967 Ford Mark IV at SEMA with the 2018 GT Heritage Edition it inspired.

It’s been a busy couple of years for our 1967 Ford Mark IV. In the last 24 months, the car traveled to England, France, California and, most recently, Nevada. Race fans have welcomed the car at each stop, excited to see it 50 years after its Le Mans win with Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt. The car’s trip to the Silver State coincided with this year’s SEMA Show, presented by the Specialty Equipment Market Association from October 31-November 3 in Las Vegas.

The SEMA Show is among the largest automotive trade shows on the calendar. It brings together original equipment manufacturers, aftermarket suppliers, dealers, restoration specialists and more. SEMA draws some 2,400 exhibitors and 160,000 people (all of them industry professionals – the show isn’t open to the public) to the Las Vegas Convention Center each year. You’ll find a bit of everything spread over the show’s one million square feet of exhibit space: speed shop equipment, specialty wheels and tires, seats and upholstery, car audio systems, paints and finishes, motor oils and additives – basically, anything that makes a car run, look, sound or feel better.

raptorsFord provided (joyously tire-shredding) rides in Raptors, Focus RS hatches and Mustang GT350s.

Our Mark IV was given an honored place in Ford Motor Company’s main exhibit, where it was paired with the 2018 GT Heritage Edition that pays tribute to the Gurney/Foyt win. Ford’s exhibits continued outside the Convention Center in the “Ford Out Front” area. Jersey barriers formed an impromptu track in the parking lot, where attendees could ride with a professional driver in a Mustang GT350, a Focus RS, or an F-150 Raptor. Believe me, you haven’t seen drifting until you’ve seen it done with a pickup truck.

roadrunnerThe American Southwest, native habitat of the Roadrunner – like this 1970 Superbird tribute car.

Of course, Ford wasn’t the only OEM in town. Chevrolet, FCA, Toyota, Audi, Honda and Hyundai all had a presence at the show. Chevy brought its new special edition Camaro, honoring the 50th anniversary of Hot Wheels diecast cars, while FCA celebrated all things Mopar. Toyota, marking the 60th anniversary of its U.S. sales arm, brought Camrys representing each of that venerable model’s eight styling generations.

ppgpaintsPPG Paints displayed airbrushed portraits of this terrorsome trio: Edgar Allen Poe, Pennywise and Herman Munster.

PPG Paints gets my vote for most elaborate show booth. Embracing SEMA’s opening date of October 31, the company built a giant haunted house, complete with cars and parts strewn about the front lawn called – what else – “The Boneyard.” The surrounding fence was decorated with incredible airbrush art celebrating Halloween heroes like Edgar Allen Poe and Herman Munster.

retromanufacturingHaving a hard time finding new cassettes for your mid-1980s Buick Regal? Retro Manufacturing will sell you a perfect-match stereo with a USB port.

More than a few vendors drew crowds to their booths with the help of celebrity appearances. Walk around and you’d spot stars from every field of automotive endeavor. There were drivers (Emerson Fittipaldi, Ken Block), television hosts (Jessi Combs, Dennis Gage), custom builders (Gene Winfield, Chip Foose), rock stars (Jeff Beck, Billy Gibbons), and all-around icons (Linda Vaughn, Richard Petty, Jay Leno, Mario Andretti).

livedemoMany SEMA booths hosted live demonstrations, like this pinstriper at work on a Ford Focus RS.

There were educational opportunities, too. Workshops and seminars throughout the week ranged from standard business conference fare (“Building a Sustainable Social Media Strategy”) to the decidedly SEMA-specific (“Building the Best Boosted Engines of Your Career”). If seminars aren’t your thing, you could learn by watching everything from welding to pinstriping taking place right at exhibitor booths.

zephyrWhen is a Mustang a Lincoln? When it’s this P-51 Mustang airplane-inspired hot rod by Chip Foose, powered by a Lincoln-Zephyr V-12.

Contests added to the fun, too. Hot Rodders of Tomorrow, a nonprofit that encourages young people to consider careers in the automotive aftermarket industry, sponsored a challenge in which high school teams competed against each other in timed engine rebuilds. The most celebrated contest was SEMA’s annual Battle of the Builders. Nearly 200 customizers brought vehicles to be judged in four categories: hot rods, trucks/off-road vehicles, sport compacts, and young guns (for builders age 27 and under). Three top finishes were selected from each category over the show’s run, and these top 12 vehicles led the post-show SEMA cruise. An overall winner was then selected from the 12. Troy Trepanier took this year’s top prize with his 1929 Ford Model A hot rod.

tuckerTucker Tribute: A hand-built replica powered by a Cadillac Northstar V-8.

So ended another SEMA Show – and a successful golden anniversary tour for the Mark IV. And while it’s good to have the car back in the museum, we’re glad we could share it with so many people over the past two years. We’ll hope to see some of you again in 2067!

 Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Actually, the Tri-Motor of this story wasn't small at all. The all-metal airplane was rugged, dependable and equally adaptable to passenger and freight service. Built by Ford Motor Company from 1926 to 1933, the Ford Tri-Motor flew in many early American airline fleets and became the most popular airliner of the late 1920s and early 1930s.

In all, 199 Tri-Motors were built during its seven-year production run. Over the course of their lives, many of the planes found varying uses, including the 48th Tri-Motor built, purchased in 1928 by Reid, Murdoch & Company. The manager of the sales department for Ford's Lincoln division, Arthur Hatch, had completed the sale of the plane while traveling by train with the president of Reid, Murdoch, & Company. The Chicago-based company had big plans for their Tri-Motor and turned its interior into a showroom for their Monarch Foods brand. A few of the canned items stocked on the plane included sweet pickles, peanut butter, popcorn, toffees, sardines, peas, asparagus, lima beans and corn.

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Ford Tri-Motor 4-AT-48 Used as a "Flying Grocery Store" for Reid, Murdoch and Company's Monarch Foods, 1928. THF94915

When it came time for the delivery of the Tri-Motor, the president of Reid, Murdouch & Co. insisted on coming to the Dearborn, Michigan plant to personally turn the check over to Arthur Hatch. Named "Independence," the modified plane began its life as a flying salesroom, carrying samples of over 200 different food products to airports throughout the country. Occasionally, Monarch's pint-sized advertising characters, "The Teenie Weenies," also accompanied the plane on its stops.

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William B. Mayo, Head of Ford's Aircraft Division, Edsel B. Ford, president of Ford Motor Company, the president of Reid, Murdoch & Co. and Arthur Hatch, manager of the Lincoln sales department. THF285025

The Teenie Weenies
, a popular comic strip created by cartoonist and author William Donahey, began appearing in the Chicago Tribune during 1914. The adventures of the 2-inch tall "Teenie Weenies" took place in a town made-up of buildings created from recycled household products like shoes or food containers. In 1924, the Chicago Tribune discontinued the comic series allowing Reid, Murdoch & Co. to take advantage of the characters for use in advertising their Monarch Foods brand. In the company's advertisements, the cartoon characters used Monarch food containers for their buildings. On occasion, real-life examples of the characters (child actors) made appearances with Monarch's Tri-Motor.

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"The General" and "The Policeman" inspect the Ford Tri-Motor known as the Independence. THF94917

Besides the Ford Tri-Motor, the Teenie Weenies have another Michigan connection. On the shores of Lake Superior, east of Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore, sits a tiny town that goes by the name of Grand Marais. In the mid-1920s, Reid, Murdoch & Co. built William Donahey a summer cabin there. Inspiration for the building came right from Donahey's Teenie Weenies comic strip. The result – a building in the shape of a pickle barrel – today welcomes visitors as the Pickle Barrel House Museum.

Ryan Jelso is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.