Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

The 1960s were a decade filled with turbulence and change. The country was beginning to come out of the fog of grief caused by the death of President John F. Kennedy, and the healing was still raw.

A reckoning had been in the works for decades regarding the nation's position on civil rights. From Jim Crow laws to Supreme Court decisions, change was coming, and not everyone was excited about it. The demand for equality was now.


This is CORE, Congress of Racial Equality pamphlet, circa 1959

“This is CORE, Congress of Racial Equality” pamphlet, circa 1959. / THF8257

The 1964 Civil Rights Act was pivotal in helping to create equality for all people. The act impact affected more than just the Black community in the United States; it also affected the Indigenous community, Asian community and gender equity and helped to lay the groundwork for the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Continue Reading

What We Wore: Aprons

February 15, 2024

The current What We Wore exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, on display until April 17, 2024, features aprons that protect, connect, identify, embellish, and advocate.


Left: Mother and daughter aprons worn by Cindee Mines and her daughter Megan, 1978-1980. Gift of Cindee Mines. / THF370635, THF370633. Right: Christmas cookie cutter set, about 1970. / THF190022

 

Aprons can be used to celebrate family bonds and long-standing traditions. Each year, the extended Mines family of Ohio gathered a few weeks before Christmas to bake iced sugar cookies. In the late 1970s, Linda Mines sewed Holly Hobbie-themed aprons for each Mines family cookie maker, including these created for her sister-in-law Cindee and niece Megan.

Continue Reading

What do you think of when you think of a novel? Is it a single bound volume you picked up from your nearest bookstore or maybe a collection of words in a file you can read on your phone or e-reader? If you were to go and read Dickens today, I am sure your first thought would not be to head to the grocery store and browse the magazine display. However, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, magazines were a popular way for readers to consume works of fiction in bite-size chunks.

The Henry Ford has a sampling of volumes and loose issues from the 1850s to the mid-1900s. Most notable is our run of Harper’s New Monthly, later just Harper’s Monthly Magazine. Harper’s original mission, as stated in its inaugural issue, was to “place within the reach of the great mass of the American people the unbounded treasures of the Periodical Literature of the present day.” The editors at Harper's recognized that the best writers of the time were not being sold in bookshops but instead were writing for periodical publications.

Continue Reading

With Earth’s revolution around the sun, the changing of the seasons often brings with it a greater awareness of the role that light plays in our lives — from the sun setting earlier to shadows thrown differently across surfaces. Our adaptations that assist with navigating life in the dimming sunlight mean we are reliant on lighting devices to illuminate our lives — a relationship that has extended into the deep, dark corners of human history.


Loading Boxes of Westinghouse Mazda Lamps onto a Ford Truck, 1925.

Loading boxes of Westinghouse Mazda Lamps onto a Ford truck, 1925. Many lighting companies, including Westinghouse, licensed the “Mazda” name from General Electric for their own tungsten filament bulbs. / THF122784

Beginning in the early 1920s, General Electric explored the human relationship with lighting devices when it commissioned illustrators Maxfield Parrish and Norman Rockwell to create a group of advertising illustrations for its popular light bulb known by its trademark as the Mazda lamp. Their artwork not only drew upon “the goodness of life in the light,” but also traced the history of lighting devices. The following is an exploration of those advertising posters, supplemented with a few examples from The Henry Ford’s collection of the lighting devices they celebrate.

Continue Reading
Sleepypod Pet Carrier, 2019

Sleepypod carriers are designed to protect pets while traveling inside the family car. / THF185389

Improvements in automotive safety came gradually. Dodge Brothers crashed its early cars into brick walls to evaluate their strength during the mid-1910s. Ford offered laminated safety-glass windshields on its Model A cars in the late 1920s. And Chrysler and Plymouth models featured hydraulic brakes from their introductions in 1924 and 1928, respectively. But focus on seat belt use and scientific crash testing with anthropomorphic dummies didn’t come until the 1950s.

Continue Reading

Known as the “Golden Age of Illustration,” the decades surrounding the turn of the 20th century were a prosperous time to be an artist in the business of illustration. Technological advancements in papermaking and the increasing affordability of color printing, along with improvements in the railroad and postal systems, launched an unprecedented era for publishers. By the 1920s, this improved ability to reach audiences led to a national demand for illustrations in printed literature like books and magazines, spurred on by rising consumerism and tantalizing advertising revenue.

These new employment opportunities offered artists the possibility of becoming a household name — illustrations commissioned for national advertising campaigns or featured on the covers of widely distributed publications could be viewed by countless Americans. As with other major companies of the period, Ford Motor Company tapped into a growing pool of artistic talent for its advertising efforts. Below are the stories of five artists who not only elevated Ford’s brand awareness through their own art but also helped shape the visual culture of mid-20th-century America.

Continue Reading

Americans love to send — and receive — Christmas cards. Since the late 1800s, Christmas card production has grown, aided by inexpensive printing technologies and a prosperous — and increasingly mobile — American population. After the Second World War, greeting card companies looked for ways to outshine their competitors. Some companies commissioned production artists, animators, and illustrators who worked for West Coast film studios to create Christmas cards that appealed to mid-century Americans' tastes. Tyrus Wong, who worked for Disney and Warner Brothers Studios, is considered one of the finest Christmas card artists from the 1950s, '60s and '70s.

Snowbird designed by Tyrus Wong for California Artists, 1955.

"Snow Bird," designed by Tyrus Wong for California Artists, 1955. / THF624835

Continue Reading

To celebrate the completion of another six months of work on our 2022-2024 IMLS Museums for America – Collections Stewardship Program, the Conservation staff are showcasing some standout objects we have conserved. We are now on the second year of a two-year project to conserve, rehouse, relocate and create fully digital catalog records for 1,800 objects related to agriculture and the environment that have resided in the Collections Storage Building. Many of these objects will be used to support our Edible Education and Green Museum initiatives.


The conservation lab at the Henry Ford Museum.

Stop by the back of the museum, near the steam engines, to get a peek through the windows of the Conservation lab and see what staff are currently conserving.


Decorative milk pail from the Gwinn Dairy Collection.

This decorative milk pail from the Gwinn Dairy Collection had layers of dirt and debris on the surface to be removed. What was found on the underside was quite a surprise.

Continue Reading
Lillian Schwartz working at her home computer circa 2010.

Lillian Schwartz working at her home computer circa 2010. / THF706855

In 1949, Lillian Schwartz — an artist who became well known for her experimental spirit — packed her bags and boarded the U.S. Army transport ship General Daniel I. Sultan. Lillian's husband, Jack Schwartz, was a doctor and military service member. Several months earlier, he took up a new station in a pediatric hospital far from his home in New Jersey — in Fukuoka, Japan. Lillian and her young son now made the lengthy trek to join him there. Ten days of worry about seasickness, dysentery and their safety aboard a military vessel passed as they crossed the Pacific Ocean.

U.S. Army Transport Ship General Daniel I. Sultan. Lillian sailed on this ship to join her husband, Jack, in Japan in 1949.

U.S. Army transport ship General Daniel I. Sultan. Lillian sailed on this ship to join her husband, Jack, in Japan in 1949. / THF611239

Continue Reading

The holiday season is upon us, and visitors to Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village may catch an Edwardian Christmas dinner being prepared by presenters at the Edison Homestead. Try our delicious holiday recipes at home!

Christmas treats laid out for guests to see during Holiday Nights at the Edison Homestead. THF Photography, 2015.

Christmas treats laid out for guests to see during Holiday Nights at the Edison Homestead. / THF Photography, 2015.


For families in the 1910s, domestic life was changing rapidly as home economics and industry shaped how women viewed household chores and food preparation. The publications housewives turned to for holiday entertaining ideas also gave them plenty of ideas on how to spend money. Some guides were published by manufacturers looking to advertise all the uses for their products, like the Dennison Party Books or the Jell-O and the Kewpies Cookbook. Women’s magazines of the era featured gift guides and special Christmas advertisements advising readers on both the perfect gifts for the people on their lists and the perfect Christmas dinner menu. Middle-class homemakers used improved household technology, new consumer products, and helpful domestic guidebooks to celebrate Christmas traditions that are still recognizable 100 years later.

Continue Reading